Conflict and power struggles are a common occurrence in the childhood years. Evidence suggests that negotiation can be an effective conflict management tool and can help create “common positions” enabling all parties involved to feel heard.
Negotiation can help create and maintain a positive relationship with your child. The available research suggests that when you have great expectations but are also warm and receptive to your child’s needs, he is less likely to turn to socially destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse. He is also more likely to behave better and to have more positive social and psychological outcomes.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind to effectively incorporate negotiation into your conflict management strategy.
1) Not everything is negotiable
What are your non-negotiables? Your non-negotiables help you define your expectations. Being clear about what you are unwilling to negotiate about is important because it makes it easier for everyone. Remember that negotiating requires some give-and-take on both sides. If dropping your child to her outings yourself is a non-negotiable, let her know, but be willing to negotiate on other things such as what time you’ll drop or pick her up. Being clear about your non-negotiables makes it easier to find common ground.
2) Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Don’t go into a negotiation without knowing what the real issue is, what you aim to achieve, and what you are unwilling to negotiate. The negotiation process will be better for everyone if you plan ahead:
- What’s the real issue?
- Is it even an issue?
- Is it a negotiable issue?
- What are you willing to give?
- What will you accept in exchange?
Preparing also means being aware of both you and your kid’s hot buttons. Negotiating when you are tired, anxious, or snappy will not get you very far. Negotiating when your kid is shouting or in the midst of a meltdown won’t get you very far either. Calm down first. There’s no use negotiating if the timing is wrong.
When you’ve known your child for as long as you have, you are aware of most of the “problem situations”. If something is coming up that you know will cause problems, mention your expectations briefly a few days earlier when everyone is calm, but don’t dwell on it.
4) Be sincere
Isn’t it nice when people actually listen to you? Your child is no different. Negotiation is not a time-buying mechanism. Be sincere. Don’t forget that you too were a child. Take her feelings into account.
5) Whether you like it or not, your child is growing
There is proof that gradually transferring the decision-making power to children as they grow older is important and a better option than premature independence or prolonged dependency. As your child gets older, he should be allowed to take responsibility for his decisions. Encourage him to participate in the decision-making process.
Your child is able to make sound decisions by age 8/9. By age 12, he is capable of making his own decisions. Research suggests that encouraging him to make his own decisions can increase his level of confidence and can also help reduce family conflict. Indeed, your kid is more likely to go with a decision he felt he participated in making.
Get in the habit of asking your child for his opinion and start as early as possible:
- What would you do?
- What do you think is fair for everyone in the family?
- How do we handle this if you break the rules?
6) Don’t forget you’re the boss!
Your child will increasingly challenge your authority as she grows older. That’s her job. Your job is to create an open environment where conflict is brought out in the open and dealt with appropriately. How you react sets the stage for your future relationship.
You are always in charge of the negotiation process, which places the burden of a successful negotiation on your shoulders. Keep your cool; if you can’t, choose a different time to negotiate. You could say something like this: “It looks like we’re not making much progress, let’s do this after lunch.”
Remember to be firm and clear about your non-negotiables and flexible with everything else! If you’re struggling with your kid’s behavior, resources such as The Science of Discipline Workbook can help you develop an effective discipline approach adapted to you and your kid.