“Dad, Andy just called and his family is heading out to dinner and he wants to know if I can come. Can I?” My son Brian asked.
“That sounds fun but you promised to clean up the basement today.” I responded.
“Dad, Andy is leaving for the summer this weekend and this is my chance to see him. Can I clean the basement tomorrow?”
“Do we have a deal that you’ll get it cleaned tomorrow before baseball practice?” I asked.
“Yeah, totally. Can I go?”
“Have a good time.”
Brian spent the evening with Andy and his family and the basement was clean by the following afternoon. Conversations like these happen all the time with our kids and it isn’t always obvious how to respond. When do we negotiate and when do we hold the line?
Respectful negotiation is training grounds for life
Certainly we know that children and teens alike need consistent limits and consequences as well as accountability. Waffling over consequences doesn’t help anyone. But that doesn’t mean that we need to stick to rigid rules when there are other reasonable solutions. You can practice a balanced style of parenting and negotiate without compromising your authority.
In fact, we want our kids to feel comfortable talking to us and disagreeing with us. This is especially true as kids get older. Negotiation can help us avoid a lot of unnecessary power struggles. In addition, learning how to negotiate at home helps young people build the communication skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Researchers from the University of Virginia found that young people who can calmly and persuasively negotiate and disagree with their parents are more likely to resist negative peer pressure outside the home.
Six steps to successful negotiation
This doesn’t mean that every conversation turns into hours of endless negotiation. You are still the parent and unpopular decisions come with the job. But sometimes you and your teen may be able to work out solutions that work for everyone and build important communication skills and increased trust. When you do decide to negotiate with your teen, here are some tips to set you up for success:
- Start with respect. Be willing to give and take with your kids as long as they don’t start yelling or using crude or rude language. You and your teen may generate other ground rules as well that make the conversation go more smoothly.
- Set a good example. If we treat our teens with respect, even in the middle of heated negotiation, our kids are more likely to approach a disagreement with the same attitude.
- Start by listening. Listening to your child or teen shows that you respect their opinion and input even if you ultimately disagree.
- Be clear on what is NOT negotiable. Decide which rules are non-negotiable and which rules are up for debate. For example, drunk driving or skipping class.
- Make it clear. Make sure the negotiated agreement is clear to both you and your child. Vague agreements are an invitation to conflict.
- Check in. How is negotiation going? Are you both holding up your ends of agreements? Demonstrate that your teen can earn more freedom and flexibility by making good choices.