There are times when your thirteen year old may seem like a seasoned litigator, and your kitchen feels like a courtroom. Kids are surprisingly adept at negotiating, and sometimes it's hard to "beat them at their own game.” It’s important to teach kids how to negotiate because it’s a necessary life skill, and it helps create kids who can function independently. They need to learn healthy ways to interact with people to get what they need.
What they don’t need to learn is that they can negotiate with you to decrease your power as a parent. In most negotiations, one person has more power than the other. In parenting situations, it’s the child who has less power, and he is looking to be empowered. In conflict situations, it's really that he either wants to do something you don’t want him to do or he doesn’t want to do something you want him to do.
As parents, we don’t set out to over-negotiate. We mean well, and we “fall into it.” When our kids whine, argue or resist, we give in or back off because we see it as a shortcut to compliance. If we negotiate with him, he’ll comply more readily. We also do it because we’re haunted by ghosts from our own childhood: “My mother never listened to me, so I’m not going to do that to my kids.”
“If you want a later curfew, come home on time on your regular curfew three times in a row, and then we’ll talk about a changing it. But if you can’t come home on time on this one, why should I give you a later one?”
Parents who over-negotiate with their children usually have good motives at heart, but the outcome is unhealthy. Usually, they are responding to some sort of coercion. They do it to avoid a power struggle or a meltdown. Kids learn that they can negotiate away the structure you’ve put in place in the home and, as a result, they can negotiate away your power and authority within that structure. They learn that you’ll give it away or give up if they push hard enough.
Nearly every parent finds themselves negotiating around the issue of their child’s curfew, whether it’s the time they’re expected home on a school night or on the weekends. When your child pushes you to extend the time by another half hour or hour, you can quickly find yourself in a pointless argument or backing down to avoid one. I recommend following these specific rules when your child wants to negotiate about curfew.
Parents should not negotiate predetermined agreements and responsibilities. You can say, “You agreed to be home by 6 o’clock on school nights. That’s what we agreed to when we talked about this. It’s your responsibility. We’re not going to talk about it anymore.”
Parents should not negotiate extending their child’s curfew over the phone, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour before they’re expected home. If the child wants a later curfew, he has to come home on time now. Then he can sit down with you at another time to discuss a later curfew. He can’t change it on the night he wants to break it. Or you can approach it this way: Sit down with him when things are calm and say, “If you want a later curfew, come home on time on your regular curfew three times in a row and then we’ll talk about changing it. But if you can’t come home on time on this one, why should I give you a later one?” Remember, keeping your curfew is a responsibility, and you don’t negotiate responsibilities.
Don’t negotiate with the child when he’s trying to wrangle a later curfew with you through force. If he’s calling you and getting into a power struggle about “I don’t wanna come home yet,” don’t attend the fight you’re being invited to. Tell him you expect him home at his normal curfew, remind him of the consequence for not being home on time, and hang up. If you’re dealing with a power struggle that goes deeper than this, The Total Transformation Program will give you a comprehensive plan for managing this.
Don’t negotiate your child’s curfew “on the spot.” Kids will do this to you all the time. They’ll bring up the issue of when they have to be home when you’re busy, stressed or distracted, thinking it will be easier to get you to give in. If your child wants to talk to you about his curfew while you’re making dinner, tell him you’ll talk about it after dinner at seven o’clock. Give yourself some time to think it through. When you meet at seven, both you and your child will likely have more of a clear head about the matter. Remember, just because your child asks you to talk about it doesn’t mean you have to give up the answer immediately. Take some time to think before you respond.
If you’ve fallen into a pattern of negotiating about this issue with your child and now you start to hold the line more firmly, expect him to resist. If you have problems dealing with the level of resistance your child puts up, refer to audio lessons three and four in The Total Transformation Program for guidance on effective parenting styles and specific tools you can use to defuse this resistance. Our Parental Support Line advisors can also give you personalized help to make this change go more smoothly for your family. If you’re not a member of the Parental Support Line or would like to reinstate your membership, please call us at 1-800-460-2235.