7 Steps to Negotiating With Your Child

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By Ron Huxley, LMFT

You walk in and find your child playing computer games instead of cleaning his room. You asked him an hour ago to clean it. In frustration, you blow up, yelling at him to get his room cleaned up or “else.” He scrambles around picking up dirty clothes and toys. You stomp off. There has got to be a better way, you think to yourself.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Yelling often gets opposite results and results in a lose/lose situation. Even if you win (get him to clean his room), you lose (feel horrible for yelling). Instead parents can try using
negotiation. While, it is not a perfect tool, it will increase the cooperation desired from your child.

Negotiation is a tool that allows parents and children to make a win/win agreement. It is a learned skill and no child, that I know, is born with it. It must be modeled and reinforced by parents. But, because most parents, that I know, were children at one time or another, they were not born with it either. Therefore, here are several steps for parents to teach negotiation to your child:

Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable ahead of time. If cleaning his room after dinner is not an acceptable time because company is coming and you need the room picked up now, state firmly but gently, why it is not acceptable to wait. If it is an acceptable time to do the chores, then be flexible and make sure you are both clear on what “after dinner” really means.

Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. If your child appears grumpy and depressed take a moment to find out why. Yelling will only increase the grumps and depression, backfiring on you in moments of revenge or decreased cooperation
later.

Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. Most negotiation ends up in the blame game where there are no winners, only losers. Keep things on the specific topic and not on what happened yesterday, last month, or years ago. If you do get off track, simply steer yourself back on the right path by stating, “Let’s get back to the issue of when you are to clean your room.”

Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your child by negotiating in front of his friends. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching. Ask to talk to him in a private room or ask for the friend to go home.

Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling you are over heated, tired, or preoccupied with a hundred other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.

Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your child is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the chores. Those feelings belong to him and are valid to him even if they are not to you. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your bad day at school.” You never said it was true, just bad for him.

Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in contract form if that seems necessary.

Of course, negotiation may not be enough. Your child may still not pick up his room. If that happens set firm consequences for failure to cooperate. Remind him of the negotiation and, in the future, write everything down so there is no dispute on the agreement. When he fails to comply, point to the contract and state the consequence. This takes parents out of the uncomfortable judge and jury role. Most often, children will be testing parents to see if they mean what they say as parents have failed to follow through themselves, in the past.

Parenting: Don’t Praise Your Children!

Let’s start with the purpose of praise: to encourage children to continue to engage in positive behaviors that produce positive outcomes. Now you can start to see the problems with “good job!” First, it lacks specificity. It doesn’t tell children what precisely they did well and without that information they can’t know exactly what they should do in the future to get the same outcome. Second, “good job!” focuses on the outcome rather than the process. If you’re going to be lazy with your praise, at least say, “Good effort!” because it focuses them on what they did to do a good job.

Unfortunately, many parents have been misguided by the “self-esteem movement,” which has told them that the way to build their children’s self-esteem is to tell them how good they are at things. Unfortunately, trying to convince your children of their competence will likely fail because life has a way of telling them unequivocally how capable or incapable they really are through success and failure.

The reality is that children don’t need to be told “good job!” when they have done something well; it’s self-evident. They do need to be told why they did well so they can replicate that behavior in the future to get the same positive outcome.

Research has shown that how you praise your children has a powerful influence on their development. The Columbia University researchers Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck found that children who were praised for their intelligence, as compared to their effort, became overly focused on results. Following a failure, these same children persisted less, showed less enjoyment, attributed their failure to a lack of ability (which they believed they could not change), and performed poorly in future achievement efforts. Says Dweck: “Praising children for intelligence makes them fear difficulty because they begin to equate failure with stupidity.”

Too much praise of any sort can also be unhealthy. Research has found that students who were lavished with praise were more cautious in their responses to questions, had less confidence in their answers, was less persistent in difficult assignments, and less willing to share their ideas.

Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions. The researchers Mueller and Dweck found that children who were praised for their effort showed more interest in learning, demonstrated greater persistence and more enjoyment, attributed their failure to lack of effort (which they believed they could change), and performed well in subsequent achievement activities. Rewarding effort also encouraged them to work harder and to seek new challenges. Adds the Clark University researcher Wendy Grolnick: “Parental encouragement of learning strategies helps children build a sense of personal responsibility for control over-their academic careers.”

Based on these findings, you should avoid praising your children about areas over which they have no control. This includes any innate and unalterable ability such as intelligence, physical attractiveness, or athletic or artistic gifts. You should direct your praise to areas over which your children have control-effort, attitude, responsibility, commitment, discipline, focus, decision making, compassion, generosity, respect, love, the list goes on. You should look at why exactly your children did something well and specifically praise those areas. For example, “You worked so hard preparing for this test,” “You were so focused during the entire chess match,” and “You were so generous for sharing with your sister.”

Particularly with young children, you don’t need to praise them at all. The best thing you can do is simply highlight what they did. For example, if your toddler just climbed a playground ladder for the first time, just say, “You climbed that ladder by yourself.” Their smile of pride will tell you that they got the message you wanted them to get, namely, “I did it!” Nothing more needs to be said.

As another alternative to praise, just ask your children questions. You can find out what your children thought and felt about their achievement, for example, “What did you enjoy most about your performance?” and “How do you feel about what you just did?” Allow your children to decide for themselves how they feel about their accomplishments, enable them to reward themselves for their own good actions, and encourage them to internalize what they observed about their own achievement efforts.

Or really go out on a limb and don’t say anything at all to your children. As I just mentioned, kids know when they do well. By letting them come to this realization on their own, they learn to reinforce themselves and they don’t become praise junkies dependent on you for how they feel about their efforts and accomplishments.

Here is my challenge to you. First, next time you’re at the playground or a youth sports competition, take note of what parents say to their children. I’ll bet you hear “Good job!” (or some variation) constantly. Next, monitor what you say to your children in the same situations. Then, erase “Good job!” from your vocabulary. We’ve already established how useless it is. Finally, start to praise your children in the healthy ways I just described. When you have broken yourself of the “Good job!” habit, you can then pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, “Good job!”

psychologytoday.com

Parenting: Some parent/child conflicts boil down to personality

It’s a concept that parents may not be familiar with, but experts say it can explain a lot about family conflicts: Is your child’s temperament a good “fit” with yours?

For example, a stubborn child who’s a chip off the old block might have a lot of showdowns with an equally stubborn mom or dad. But contrasting temperaments don’t necessarily assure good results: A determined child might overwhelm an overly flexible parent.

Many personality traits such as these are inborn, but “temperaments can also be colored by the environment in which children are raised,” said child psychologist Brian Daly, who teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

That means parents who take a step back to consider their child’s personality traits may be able to tailor their childrearing style to deal more effectively with problems.

Much of the research on child temperament is based on the New York Longitudinal Study, in which psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess followed a group of children from birth to adulthood beginning in 1956. Thomas and Chess, who were married, found that children’s personalities could be put in three basic categories: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. They also identified nine other variables that measured behaviors and traits such as willfulness, moodiness, activity levels, distractibility, attention span, and regularity in sleep, hunger and other biological functions.

One finding from their research was that a good “fit” between children and parents results when adult expectations, values and demands are in accord with a child’s natural capacities and behaviors. Their last book, published in 1999, was called Goodness of Fit. (Thomas died in 2003, Chess died in 2007.)

But their theory was not just a way of letting parents off the hook by blaming kids for personality traits they could not control. The takeaway for parents was that conflicts resulting from a poor fit between parent and child might be ameliorated if childrearing practices could be changed. The theory has withstood the test of time, with psychologists and other experts who work with children and parents still using some of these concepts today.

Resa Fogel, a psychologist who practices in Montclair and Teaneck, N.J., was one of the children in the original study. “When I was little, they came to my house all the time and interviewed and watched me,” said Fogel. “They were the nicest people. I thought they were another set of grandparents.”

She became interested in psychology, an interest that was fueled when she got a job assisting Thomas in his research at New York University. She used some of the original studies for her dissertation, which looked at how children with difficult temperaments end up behaving.

“You would think people with difficult temperaments are automatically very hard people to be around,” she said. “I showed that if there’s a goodness of fit between the environment and the person, then even if you have a difficult temperament, you’re not going to necessarily misbehave. In other words, there’s hope for people who are tough.”

Difficult children “are going to be harder” for parents, she acknowledged, “but you have to have the right way of handling it. That’s what goodness of fit is. It’s like a puzzle you put together.”

Arthur Robin, director of psychology training at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, said one common problem he encounters is a child with ADHD or “a very hyper-impulsive child” who has “a passive, depressed, lethargic mom. The child is going to get to do anything he or she likes because the mom is not going to have the energy level to set down some structure.”

Another common problem is “a very rigid, willful child and a highly flexible parent,” Robin said. “The parent is going to go with whatever the child wants. The child is going to end up really spoiled or have a strong sense of entitlement.”

The parents

Sometimes problems are rooted in the temperament of the parent, not the child. “If a parent is extremely moody, and a child is not very even-tempered, the child is going to get really upset and scared, and may develop in an introverted manner because they can’t deal with the extremes of parent moodiness,” Robin said.

With willfulness, Robin says, he tries to recast the trait as “determination” and encourages parents to channel it into “positive activities to move the child ahead.” Teenagers might be encouraged “to fight for some kind of cause, or sometimes parents can get them to spend a lot of time on creative pursuits, so it’s not all channeled into conflicts with parents.” Music or artistic pursuits may be an especially good outlet for moody children, Robin said.

Daly said he often encounters families where parents have no problems with one child but a lot of problems with the other. “One child is very well-behaved and fits their parenting style,” he explained. “You could say the child’s temperament is a good match or fit. They rave about that child; the child is responsive and respectful.”

But with the other child, the parents may feel that they’re “constantly butting heads. There may be temper tantrums, digging in heels, but without an appropriate result. A lot of times parents have certain values and it can be hard to adjust those values to meet the temperament of the child.”

Choose your battles

Daly said parents who are just as stubborn as their kids often get into standoffs because “neither will give ground.” In these cases, it may not work to take a hard line approach of, “if you can’t comply with this, then you’re going to get in more and more trouble.”

It also pays to pick your battles carefully. When a little girl couldn’t get out of the house without a tantrum over what to wear, Daly counseled her parents to let her choose her own outfits even if they weren’t quite as coordinated as the parents wished.

With teens, said Robin, if they’re “sneaking out in the middle of the night,” you have more important things to focus on than whether their room is clean. “The stuff that isn’t worth fighting about, let it drop,” Robin said.

Another thing to keep in mind when a child’s personality presents challenges, Fogel said: “This is the temperament she was born with; this is how she acts, this is how you act. You try to find a way to make things better but there’s no magic answer, there’s no formula.”