Negotiating with your toddler and preschooler is not about winning or losing.

Negotiating With Children

by Renee Miller

While most parents would love to have children that do whatever they’re told without question, that’s almost never going to happen. Negotiation can help avoid fighting to get your child to do what you want because it involves him in the decision-making process. However, negotiating doesn’t mean you give in to unreasonable demands. When you give your child reasonable options, it removes the need for either one of you to give into anything. Instead you’re bargaining, or trying to find a way to meet everyone’s needs.

Negotiation and Social Development

Children that don’t get options tend to become overly compliant or overly defiant. Neither is appealing for any parent. On the other hand, when you let your children do whatever they want, they don’t learn much of anything because they never really have to make a decision. According to North Dakota State University, children learn how to interact with others from the model their parents use with them. Using a discipline style that allows for some negotiation is beneficial for your child’s social development and helps them feel calm and secure.

When to Begin

Toddlers and preschoolers are smart, and negotiations can begin as early as 12 months of age. At this point, you can engage your toddler in negotiation by offering close-ended choices, such as having a cookie or a granola bar for a snack. Around 3 years of age, you can be more flexible. Ask your child what she wants for a snack instead of giving her the options. Kids develop a sense of pride in being able to have that kind of control, and you’re teaching your preschooler how to be reasonable and resolve conflicts.

Speak the Right Language

Negotiating doesn’t mean your child gets his way. The key to negotiating with young children is to phrase your requests so that you give control to your child instead of just giving orders or ultimatums. For example, your preschooler wants to go to the park, but you have to go to work. Explain that you have to go to work, but you would love to take him to the park later. This offers your child control by giving him the chance to make a decision. He might scream that he doesn’t care, he wants to go now, or he might surprise you and say “Okay.” By rephrasing your requests or explanations, you’re giving your child the opportunity to say yes, and feeding his need for control and independence, so he’ll be more likely to listen to your reasoning.

Keep it Age-Appropriate

To teach successful negotiation, parents must negotiate issues in age-appropriate ways. You’re not going to let your preschooler decide when he’ll pick up his toys. Giving a preschooler the choice of when she picks up her toys means those toys will remain right where they are until you pick them up. If your preschooler balks at picking up his toys, calmly explain that you can’t go to the park or do another fun activity until the toys are picked up. This offers her an age-appropriate choice, and she feels part of the decision-making process.

Non-Negotiable Rules

There are some things that just aren’t negotiable, particularly when dealing with toddlers and preschoolers. Know your limits before you begin negotiating and these hard and fast rules will remain that way. For example, don't negotiate over whether or not your child sits in his car seat or what time he goes to bed. These are solid rules that you must enforce consistently. But small things that don’t endanger your child’s safety and health should always be open to negotiation.

About the Author

Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.

Photo Credits

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