A dad puts his 7-year-old to bed. After the bedtime story, the child starts the negotiation.
Child: Four more stories and I’ll go to bed.
Dad: Two more.
Child: Three is my final offer.
The dad agrees and reads the boy three more stories. Good for his word, his son goes to sleep.
Is the father giving away his parental power by negotiating with his son? Is negotiation a good thing to teach children?
Teaching children to negotiate is an important job for parents. If you are the type of parent (authoritarian) who won’t permit your child to negotiate anything, your son may grow up to be overly submissive or disruptive. On the other hand, if you are overly permissive, your child won’t learn to negotiate because he gets everything he wants, anyway. Kids like rules. They want consistency in their environment with some flexibility to grow.
Negotiation provides that flexibility. By instructing your child on the art of negotiation you are teaching your son to think for himself so when he becomes older he will be able to make big decisions on his own.
Negotiating stories to be read at bedtime is a wonderful way to begin to teach negotiation. By following through, this dad showed his son that his dad could be trusted.
There are a few situations where rules must prevail due to safety and health reasons. For example, buckling up before the driver leaves the garage is not negotiable.
As a child becomes older, parents should become more flexible with the rules. For example, if curfew is at 11:00, but your teen son plans on seeing a movie that won’t let out until 12:30, have him figure out how he’ll get home; a plan you can live with.
Your goal as a parent is to help your child figure out who he is and what he wants out of life. Helping children to negotiate teaches empathy and self-awareness skills; something they’ll need to become productive members of society.
Michael Thal is the author of The Abduction of Joshua Bloom.