A child may start negotiating with you from as early as two years of age.
A child can debate and negotiate with you about how much they want to eat, how much soap they can use in the bathtub, how many stories they want to hear at bedtime, or how long they want to play in the park.
While it is important to teach the skill of negotiation to a child, you must do so correctly. Let us learn the importance of negotiation to a child and how you can do this.
Negotiation helps the child weigh their options, choose the one that they prefer the most, and learn to forego others. Consider that you want the child to set the plates and spoons at the table for lunch. If the child refuses, you can give the child the option of helping you perform this task so that you have time to play a board game with them before their afternoon nap.
Through negotiation, the child gets an opportunity to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. Suppose the child chooses to extend their play date at home, instead of going to the park on time. Later, when the child is not able to visit the park, they may regret their previous decision. This will help the child make better choices the next time. Now let us learn how you should negotiate with a child.
First, depending upon the age of the child, identify the values you want to teach them. Set clear rules and priorities. For example, wearing a seat-belt in the car and not stealing may be non-negotiable.
However, staying up a bit late at night or having extending play-time at the park may be negotiable.
Remember that negotiating is not about winning and losing. It involves reaching a compromise where all the parties win. For example, if you want the child to eat spinach, which they dislike, give them options of other nutritious food. You can also try cooking spinach in a different way.
Start by phrasing your request such that the child gets a feeling of independence and choice. For example, instead of saying "Set the table for dinner," try saying "Would you like to set the plates or spoons for dinner?"
Always try to explain the reasons behind your point of view. For example, if the child does not want to go back from the park, you could say, "We need to go back because you are going to be hungry soon."
Offer the child a way out. For example, the child may want to dress up casually for a formal party. You could ask them to dress up for the party and give them the option of dressing up as they wish at home.
Similarly, the child may want to stay up late every night. If the child has to go to school the next morning, you will not be able to allow this every day. Instead, you can give them the option to stay up half an hour later on Friday and Saturday if they sleep on time on the other days.
During the conversation, if you feel that you are losing your temper, go out and calm yourself down before talking again to the child.
Sometimes, if you feel that you can allow the child to do what they want, let the child win. For example, if there is a party at home and the child wants to stay up half an hour later, you may let them do so.
Sometimes, after talking to the child and listening to their point of view, you may make the final decision for them. For example, if the child tries to negotiate with you to get ice-cream for dinner, you may not want to negotiate with them and make a decision yourself.
Be aware of the difference between emotional blackmail and negotiation. For example, do not give in if the child threatens to throw a tantrum if you do not buy them candy.
Similarly, make it clear to the child that some rules are non-negotiable. For example, they always need to wear a seat belt in the car.
Negotiation can be a great learning experience for the child. It helps the child learn how to resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.