Negotiating With Six Year Old Children
Negotiating with children is an ongoing process, and it goes through many stages. Many of us are seriously taken off guard when our six year old suddenly develops the ability to plead their case with logic and find loopholes in all of our arguments. All of a sudden, they have transformed from the “Drama Queens of Preschool” to “Lawyers Extraordinaire!” On the one hand, we are very pleased to see intelligent arguments take the place of meltdowns, and want to encourage this newly found tactic. After all, negotiation and standing up for what you want are life skills that all parents want their children to have. On the other hand, it is exhausting and truthfully, a bit annoying.
Give and Take
I feel there is another lesson children need from us: Sometimes, they don’t win. They don’t get their way, even if their argument is a great one. Sometimes they do things that other people want and learn to be gracious about it. Do you really want your child to be someone who needs to negotiate every single thing until they wear their parent, friend, teacher, or eventually their boss or spouse down?
If your six year old is feeling drunk on this new found power of persuasion, you can go with it to a certain extent, but I believe they are also of the age to be able to see the point of view of others. It will not hurt their communication skills or feelings of self worth at all to practice saying, “OK” to you after you give them one clear reason for asking them to do something.
This is a tactic that worked very well for me as a teacher. When I asked a young child to do something rather ordinary, and they automatically started to give reasons why they didn’t care to, I would calmly and happily say, “Just say ‘OK’.” It told them right away that this was not a case calling for negotiation. It re-established my authority as the “decider” if you will. It is brief and to the point, and effectively ends the discussion. Period. It almost always worked, partly because they knew I wouldn’t back down, but also because they were a bit relieved that it was a done deal. I have noticed that many young children have a knee jerk tendency to disagree, even when it is a small request. It’s the nature of the beast.
Of course, asking them to immediately comply really only works if the children realize that you are not a dominating or authoritarian parent or teacher. A child worth their salt in the self-respect department will defy an adult who is overbearingly in control at all times.
There are many other times that warrant a respectful give and take, and that is the secret…
You Are Firm But Fair
Please don’t think that I am suggesting that children should blindly obey at all times. Children do need to feel that they will be listened to and that you will be fair. It’s just that sometimes I think adults let their children go back and forth with them for too long about every detail throughout the day. How many bites? How much longer? Why can’t I? Just one more time?
Sometimes you can see the “sheer delight” on children’s faces as they attempt to dominate, frustrate, or overwhelm their parent to the point of giving in. The process is entertaining for the little rascals. They can also hold you hostage when you know that they will get very angry if you don’t give in.
If your child has already had many experiences talking you out of your decisions, then expect them to continue giving that strategy a try. They will believe it works until it doesn’t.
My 4 Suggestions:
Help your children learn an important truth: Some things are worth negotiating, but not everything. It’s definitely worth a talk at the kitchen table telling your child how you feel about it. Maybe they don’t realize how combative every little thing has become.
Then when you do negotiate, do it well.
- Energy. Be strong, confident and CALM.
- Have a “One Good Reason” Rule. You calmly give your best valid reason once. Then get ready to hear their best reason in response.
- Listen. Hear what they are trying to tell you. Look in their eyes. Nod, smile, and let them know you are open. Reflect back what they say so they know you heard them accurately.
- Decide. If you decide in your favor, they may (more than likely) start to argue. Say in a friendly and self-assured voice, “I know you want the answer to be different, but it will not change.” or “Do you understand my answer? Good.” Do not respond to their protests. If you decide in their favor, you can thank them for explaining their point so clearly, and admit that their idea would work just as well as yours in this situation.
Setting an Example
There will be times when negotiations “break down.” Your child will get mad or refuse. Especially if they are over tired, hungry or this whole negotiation technique is still unfamiliar to them. Be patient and positive. It will take practice, but if you always decide quickly, confidently, and move on, the nagging and begging (from both of you) will definitely diminish. Just so you know, this is a phase that will wind down, especially if you can remain consistent, strong, and calm when you negotiate.
Go ahead—I’d love to hear what your brilliant six year old tries to negotiate with you…