Non-stop Negotiation Getting You Down?

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

At parenting talks one of the questions that comes up very frequently is, “Why is it that my kid wants to negotiate about EVERYTHING?” Why not? Do you remember trying to convince your parents to do something? Influencing adult behavior is fun. It feels powerful. And… it often works.

It as if we say, “No, that door is closed,” and yet something about our tone of voice or our posture or our words gives our child the idea that the door isn’t completely closed. She sees a glimmer of light shining through a tiny crack – and then the game is on.

As the parent it doesn’t always feel so great when all of your positions get shaved away by your budding courtroom lawyer. It is exhausting. Setting limits firmly and still honoring the dignity of your child isn’t really hard, but it takes practice. Here are some basic steps.

Before you open your mouth:

Know your ground and own it as yours. You are the leader of your family. Find your clarity about why this is important and why it concerns you. (“I don’t feel safe having you drive home at 3 AM on New Year’s Eve.” “In our house we have an agreement that jobs get done before you go play on Saturday.” “I call the other parent when you stay overnight so I can be comfortable.”)

Be ready for tough feelings. Know that your child may not like your limits and may call forth drama to get you to change your mind. See if you can begin to appreciate the enormous creativity and be calm through their disappointment or anger.

Find a calm centered body to deliver the news. You can emanate a sense of respect and confidence from that place.

If you are surprised by a request and aren’t sure of your answer (you don’t know your ground) a helpful response is, “I don’t know how I feel about that yet. I need a little while to think about it. Check back in an hour.” To, “But I need to know now!” you can respond, “If you need to know now the answer is ‘no.’ I can see how much you want this and I have to figure out how to make it work for me too. That will take a little time.” Be honest about mixed feelings.

When you get ready to speak:

Connection first. It is important for your child to know that they have been heard. “I know you really want to play longer and… (it is time to go, it is bedtime etc.)”
Speak in the first person. “I am not comfortable with you staying out that late on a school night.”

Let the routines be the boss. “In our house we turn the internet off at 9.”

Be open to problem solving. If you are comfortable with the request but can’t seem to solve a logistics problem engage them in solving the problem. “I hear how much you want to go to Jen’s party tomorrow. But I can’t figure out how to make it work because we won’t be there to pick you up. How can we solve that so it will work for both of us and not create a burden for another family?”

Free 2 hour parenting talk open to the public on Feb 23rd. If you are in Seattle you are welcome to join us. Child care is NOT provided. Here is the information: flier 2 12
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