It starts out innocent. You put your child to bed and they suddenly have to go to the bathroom … again. Or they have a thirst like any other thirst they have ever experienced before and MUST have water or else they’ll fall to the floor in a puddle. Your child receives a plate of food with reasonable and healthy portions. They ask how many bites they must eat to receive a treat, or to be excused from the table. You ask them to help with a responsibility (like fold towels) and instantaneously they are hungry.
As they grow older the negotiations become more mature and at times pre-meditated. Your child is suddenly sweet, extra snuggly, being strangely compliant about everything. This is their first mistake because as a parent you weren’t born yesterday. Although you believe your child is an angel capable of loving, kind and respectful behavior, you also know their limitations. So what gives? They want something and they are buttering you up before asking and setting in place evidence for negotiation. “Mom, I did all you asked" …or … "Mom, I was really good today" ... "Why can’t I -- spend the night at Susie’s house? ... have more video game time? ... stay up 30 minutes later?”
At what point does a parent enter into negotiations, and when it is wrong for a child to negotiate?
As a parent I have learned it is critical to have clear expectations in place. For example, bed time is promptly at 9 p.m., so they need to take care of all their needs and potential needs before then. If they feel they may be thirsty after being tucked in, they need to prepare a glass of water just in case. If they wish to stay up, they need to discuss this with me ahead of time, not while preparing for bed. That is the wrong time to enter into negotiations as it sets a precedent that your clear expectations are really grey matter. When a child begins this negotiation with me I say, “Great question, ask me tomorrow and we’ll plan a day where you can stay up 30 minutes later, but not tonight. Bedtime is at 9 p.m.”
I usually receive whining, and last-ditch efforts to try and persuade me but I try as much as possible to stay the course (yes, sometimes they win me over, and they celebrate when they do … I do have my soft moments). Why stay the course? It is the wrong time to enter into negotiations, not that negotiations are wrong. There is a myth that children who negotiate are always manipulative and disrespectful of the rules. It is fabulous when children are able to plan and prepare an argument to make something happen, but it is unfortunate when they are allowed to manipulate as that undermines the value of respect.
Continuing with the example, to give in right before bedtime consistently (not occasionally) teaches them they can manipulate, that there are no boundaries and reasonable expectations. To request a meeting and a discussion at an appropriate time teaches them life skills they can take into other relationships and into their future workplace. It teaches respect.
I am not suggesting you turn into a tyrant and refuse water or bathroom visitations after lights have been turned off, but that you remind your children to care for their needs before the final bedtime routine. If necessary post a list in their bedroom or bathroom (words and/or with pictures) of all that is expected of them to do prior to lights out, ensuring a higher rate of success … and if nothing else, it puts the power of negotiations without argument back into your court. “Oh? Well, let’s take a look at the bedtime list. I’m sorry you forgot your water. Go back to bed and I’ll bring you a glass as you should be in bed now.” Or, “If you need to use the restroom there is no need to visit me and announce it, we can spend time together tomorrow, just go and then return straight to bed.”
What are some examples of clear expectations in your home? Do your children try to negotiate? How
are negotiations handled in your home? I would love to hear all about it! Other parents, too, it helps us
all learn from each other.
photo credit: "glass of water" by followtheseinstructions, via Flickr