My wife (Yay, gay marriage was legalized in Illinois during my four-year hiatus from blogging!) often tells me that I am raising a little negotiator. He and I discuss “terms” and “make proposals” and “offers” and “counter offers.” We also identify the “problem” and “develop solutions” and, after running through the pluses and minuses of each option, we choose the best one together. There is no right or wrong, no power struggle. It’s a collaborative negotiation, where we try to meet the needs and interests of all parties.He’s a preschooler and he’s an excellent negotiator; in fact, I would suggest that all kids are excellent negotiators but often parents don’t have the time or energy to nurture that in them. Most of us in our forties (Something else that happened to me these past four years: I aged out of my thirties.) had at least one parent, if not both, who asserted power and authority over us—certainly we experienced the power and authority of teachers and school administrators— so it comes more naturally. It takes a great deal of conscious thought to negotiate with someone, particularly a preschooler who thinks he knows everything already (or is preschooler and “thinks he knows everything” redundant?), but it’s always worth it.
For example, one day when I picked him up from school after work we needed to get dinner started soon and disagreed on how to spend the little time we had left. We identified the problem: we had limited time and he wanted to go to the park whereas I wanted to go to the library. Then we asked questions. I asked him why he wanted to go to the park. They hadn’t gone to the park at school that day he explained (unusual for a school day). I told him I had a book waiting for me to pick up at the library. There were two obvious solutions: go to the park or go to the library. I asked him what we should do. Instead of whining or yelling or insisting we go to the park “NOW!,” my son offered a third solution: we could go to the park that day and the library the next day. I talked it through for a minute while he listened: the book would still be waiting for me the following day; I had another book I was still reading (I am lost without a good book on hand at all times); and the weather was gorgeous while (quickly pulling over and checking my weather app) it was purported to rain the following day. Okay, I said, he had a good idea: park today, library tomorrow. We had a lovely time at the park that afternoon and the following day, as the rain came down, we skipped into the library, hand in hand.
Of course, there are always things that aren’t negotiable, mostly to do with health and safety, but they make up a small percentage of daily interaction, and if discussed in the same manner with respect and context, our little negotiator *mostly* accepts them, especially when I point out the twenty other things that we did negotiate that day.
In my experience teaching our child negotiation skills, boundaries are just as important, perhaps even more so, than when asserting adult/parental authority. Respectful negotiation—listening, considering context and relationship, making reasonable proposals—focuses our communication and I think we both walk away more satisfied. Yelling, whining or complaining isn’t allowed. We talk, identify the problem, discuss our personal needs and interests, and determine whether they are compatible or conflictual, then identify and analyze solutions, ultimately choosing the best one together.
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