Does it seem like every time you tell your child “No,” it turns into a tug-of-war? One mom shared with us recently, “Absolutely everything’s an argument with my son. Even the simplest request. He just can’t take no for an answer. It’s so frustrating!” Many parents find themselves in a negotiation with their children when they are met with any kind of resistance.
Negotiating is an important life skill. By definition, it means coming to an agreement through discussion. It’s about finding a middle or common ground. But negotiation can also mean to get over or around something, such as negotiating the vacuum around the furniture. When it comes to children, they often try to negotiate “around” us to get the result they want.
Sometimes talking to your child—especially if she has a personality that tends to be oppositional or defiant—can feel like you’re in a courtroom. Having just told your teenage daughter no, she can’t have a friend over, she immediately puts you on the witness stand. “Isn’t it true that just last week you told me I need to start finding more things to do so I don’t just sit around the house all summer?”
Caught off guard, you begin to defend your decision: “Well, yes, but this just isn’t a good day to have someone over. I’m tired and I have to work tomorrow morning. Besides, your room is a mess!” Your daughter, the amateur lawyer, responds: “So the answer is yes, you did tell me to find things to do! And please—yes or no answers only—you’re saying that because you’re tired, I’m not allowed to socialize? What if I cleaned my room first? Then can I have a friend over?” Tired of being on the defensive, you give in simply so she will stop hounding you: “Why do you always have to argue about everything? Fine, have her over, but you’d better get your room clean!”
The above situation is a classic example of a child negotiating around her parent to get her way. Your daughter wasn’t looking to find the middle ground. You stood in the way of her plans, so she figured out how to work around you. She wore you down until you agreed, just to stop the arguing. We’ve all been there as parents.
So what does it look like to negotiate with your child? Say you are discussing how much allowance is going to be paid for chores your son will do around the house. You may say, “I will pay you $5 each week if you keep your room clean, clean the guest bathroom and vacuum the living room every Saturday.” And your son comes back with, “If I take out the trash too, will you give me $10?” That’s negotiating with you.
The key here is that there’s room for give and take because you’re still discussing the matter. It’s not a request to which you’ve already said no. You are still thinking over the pros and cons and getting your child’s input, prior to giving an answer. Together, you are coming to an agreement about a fair decision or compromise. Discussions with your child that take place after you’ve given your decision are not negotiations! What’s happening in those cases is that your child is negotiating around you. They are trying to get their way, not find common ground.
It’s much easier to avoid over-negotiating with your child rather than try to fix a situation after you’ve already given an answer. Here five steps you can take now to be more effective:
There are two situations in which you will want to “stick to your guns”, as difficult as that might be:
When we make parenting decisions in reaction to a child’s arguments and disputes, everyone loses. As parents we come away feeling frustrated and ineffective. Our child comes away with the mistaken idea that the way to get what you want in this world, when faced with an answer or limit you don’t like, is to argue. It also creates the mistaken impression that parents and children are on the same level. We’re not. A parent has the ultimate authority and sometimes the answer is going to be No. You don’t have to be a dictator but at the same time, it’s not a democracy. Remember: as much as your kids might try to tell you otherwise, all family member “votes” are not equal!
Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.