As I promised, more to come. “Negotiation?” you might ask, “How is that support?” Well, as a teacher, we get formal training on cognitive skills that children must learn from early childhood through high school, hopefully, to make them life-long learners. Cognition is the art of thinking. My definition. The more technical definition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge or understanding. So, if you want to give your child some life-long support, help them learn how to think. Negotiation is an excellent way to do that, and oh so much fun for the child. They feel the power. The brain cogs begin to spin. Self-confidence, creativity, and intellect all begin to soar, not to mention the communication skills they are practicing. It can also be fun for the parent, as soon as we let go of some traditioned thinking: parents are always right; parents are always smarter than children; parents should be obeyed without question.
So how does this actually happen? Johnny comes in the door, “I’m bored.” Ah ha, time for some negotiation. What Johnny is really saying is that he wants to play his Nintendo or go to his friend’s house or eat or get on the computer or simply just see what you will come up with to solve this problem and get him out of your hair. Nope! Let the games begin.
“So Johnny, I need the back porch organized and swept. Could you do that for me?” A test. He might actually be bored.
“No, I don’t want to work. I want to do something fun.” Johnny is exasperated with you for being so dense.
“Like what?” Now the truth comes out.
“I want $5 bucks to go get pizza with Sam.” Or whatever.
“No problem. What would you do in exchange for that? Something that makes a difference to me.” Getting the thought processes started. Don’t cave in easily. Make Johnny think.
“I’ll take the garbage out.” Right.
“So what would the pay rate be if I gave you $5 dollars.” Even better–you’ll probably have to help him with the math: (So how long do you think it will take? Fifteen minutes (right). Okay then, so there are 4 15 minutes in an hour. If we multiply $5 by 4, that would be the equivalent of paying you $20 an hour. Or get out money and use it for a manipulative, or some other method—anything will do. Remember, it is just an opportunity to engage Johnny in thinking and negotiation tactics). Then…
“So do you think that $20 an hour is a fair rate? Who do you know that makes that much? How can we decide what skills a person that makes that much should have? Etc.” Now don’t forget to listen. No fair calling rank on him. If he reasons well, you have to respect his logic wherever it leads.
“But, Mom, I don’t want to earn it, I just want you to give it to me. After all, you are my mom.” Hmmm. Don’t react. Go with the flow.
“Good point. So let’s talk about that.” Grab a paper. This needs to be in writing. He is entering the ring of power, but you need evidence later to maintain your own power. “What kinds of things do you think a parent should provide, and what should a child take responsibility for earning? And how should a rate be established, or raises given.” Keep it generic; this is not a personal attack—just cognitive thinking, and negotiation.
And so it goes. Fun! However, don’t forget the point: support. We are not trying to win, prove we are smarter, establish that we have all the authority and that he is just an insignificant pawn in the grand scheme of things. No! We are trying to help him learn to navigate a complex life. Support.
But again, negotiation isn’t just about money. Remember how important choices are, and how entwined they are to negotiation. It is time for chores. “Johnny, will you vacuum the living room?”
“Aw! I don’t want to vacuum the living room.” Of course you don’t. Nobody does.
“What job would you rather do?”
“None.” You knew the answer. But still… Negotiation time!
“Let’s talk about the jobs that need to be done. What would be a good way to divide them up?” Notice that we are not letting him off the hook. Just letting him enter the circle of choices, decision making, posturing for position, in essence, negotiation just like real life.
Johnny may surprise you with an idea that you have not thought of. Don’t jump to pulling rank—a natural for parents. This is where you realize that even you, the parent, may need to practice the art of negotiation. If you can pull rank, you are not playing fair.
“I hate doing jobs every day! I would rather have a big job on the weekend and have my nights free.” Or visa versa. Or whatever…
And so it goes. With practice, you can get good at it, and even better, so can Johnny. Glory in his proficiency. Don’t take it personally. You sacrifice a lot for your child. Sacrifice a little authority.
One of the biggest traps in negotiating with your child is the feeling that you must be consistent. You must. But resist the temptation to be too rigid, too consistent.
“My friend’s family is going to the movies tonight. Can I go.” You know the rule. Homework comes first after school no matter what. Resist. Negotiate.
“When would you do your homework?”
“I will get up early in the morning and do it before school.” Give him a chance.
If he breaks his word, you can bring that up next time this negotiation comes up. But assume the best, and even if he breaks it, don’t be overly rigid next time either. Just make sure to negotiate that eventuality, also. (“What if you don’t get up?”) But for the first time, take him at his word. Soon enough, he will learn that part of his negotiating power is keeping the promises of the negotiation. Good skills. Enjoy the journey.
Parenting is all about making parenting unnecessary. And you will get the joy of realizing how smart your child is, and you will be surprised at how young they can exhibit their intelligence. Give them a chance. Negotiate. Question, listen, respond. Help them discover their potential.