Life with kids often involves negotiation, whether we like it or not. The negotiation between you and your children can actually be an empowering experience for them if you structure it properly. Take, for example, this scenario: You are diligently working in your home office, paying your bills. Work has been slow, so you’ve had to dig into your family vacation savings. Your daughter walks into your office and says, “Mommy can we go to Disney World for our family vacation this summer?” Instead of freaking out, lecturing her about how broke you are, and telling her that she will have to settle for a local amusement park…negotiate with her! Tell her, “Disney World is too expensive for us right now, but Disneyland, Six Flags (or another amusement park or attraction in your area) isn’t. Therefore, whichever one of those you wish to choose is okay with me. It’s your choice. You pick.”
As the mother, you are setting parameters, yet giving your child the power to choose within those parameters. The child’s focus shifts to new alternatives (you’ve created new value), and she feels empowered to negotiate within those boundaries. Whatever choice she makes, she will be happy with because it is “her choice,” not a choice that was imposed upon her.
This technique can also work with teens, but you may have to get more creative with your options. (Just remember, we were all teens once!) For example, if you are faced with this sticky situation:
Your sixteen-year-old son’s last report card was not good. He comes to you and says, “Mom, José is having a party at his house in two weeks, is it okay if I go? Oh, and by the way, can I take your car to the party?” You tell him, “Hmmm, you haven’t been doing well in school, so you can’t take the car. But maybe there’s something we can do about letting you go to José’s party. Let’s see, the party is two weeks away, so it gives you enough time to show me you are doing better in school and deserve to go to the party.
You can do this one of three ways. You can (a) Get an “A” on a test and show it to me; (b) Have one of your teachers write a short note telling me you are improving in your school work; or (c) Negotiate with your teacher and see if she’s willing to let you do some extra credit work…and have it done before the party. So, you have three options; you just have to pick one and do it and you’re set to go to José’s party. Let me know which option you choose.”
In this case, you negotiated “responsibility of actions and consequences” and shifted the power of him going to the party from you to him. Going to the party is now in his control, but within your parameters. By you controlling the options, you control the negotiation. That doesn’t mean your daughter or son won’t throw in some options at times, but it is up to you whether to accept them.
The next time your child makes a request that you are hesitant to oblige (and that could be in the next five minutes!), ask yourself, “What alternatives can I offer that fall into the parameters I want to establish for this negotiation?’’ Make sure you offer at least two or three alternatives, so they have a choice in the matter. In doing so, everyone wins. Your kids win by selecting what they want, and you win by controlling the options from which they select.
When all parties are happy, that’s what I call a successful negotiation.