Dad shouting at son with bullhorn

Don’t Shoot!

2 Ways to Avoid Being Ignored and Negotiating Your Expectations with Your Kids

Does getting your child to comply sometimes feels like a hostage negotiation? Parents often report they struggle with balancing the time it takes to explain their request with the expectation that their child should just do what they tell them to do when they tell them to do it.

Good news—you don’t have to! When working with your child to follow your direction, focus solely on being consistent in making the request. After your child complies, then you can take the time to explain why you asked them to do something, or why they had to do it right now, etc.

When we explain our motives or reasons for a request in that moment we open up the opportunity for a child to attempt to negotiate out of it. It’s most effective to avoid the discussion at that time and focus on helping your child comply.

Before we break it down, let’s visit the all too familiar scene we know so well:

Parent: “Joey, it’s time for us to go to the grocery store, put away your video game and get your shoes on.”

Joey: “But why? I wanna keep playing!”

Parent: “Because we have to get groceries for the week so I can make your lunches for school and cook dinner.”

Joey: “I don’t need that, I can buy lunch at school! Can’t we go later?”

Parent: “I don’t have time to go later; we are going now.”

Joey: “But I just said I don’t need lunch! I can buy it!”

Parent: “We don’t have money for you to buy lunch each day, do you know how expensive that is? Let’s go.”

Joey: “We can use the grocery money!”

Parent: “Ugh! FINE! 10 more minutes, then we HAVE to go!”

10 mins later…

Parent: “Joey, it’s time for us to go”

Joey: “No!”

Parent: [in exasperation] “Joey! End of discussion! Get in the car now or you’ll lose the video games for a week!”

It’s amazing how clever our kids can be! Often parents report to me that they feel like they can’t keep up with their kid’s endless attempts to maneuver out of a task. Here are two easy tricks to avoid getting caught in this rapid-fire negotiation.

1. The Broken Record Approach: Here’s where you continue to repeat your request in a calm, relaxed tone. You avoid engaging with the questions about why you’re asking for your child to act.

Parent: “Joey, it’s time for us to go to the grocery store, put away your video game and get your shoes on.”

Joey: “But why? I wanna keep playing!”

Parent: “We’ll talk about it in the car. It’s time for you to put your shoes on and get in the car.

Joey: “Ugh, Whyyyyyy?”

Parent: It’s time for us to go to the grocery store, go get your shoes.

Joey: “But can’t I stay home with (dad, grandpa, mom, by myself, etc.)?”

Parent: “It’s time for you to put on your shoes. We are going to the grocery store. We can talk about it in the car.”

Joey: “Ugh! Ok FINE!”

I’m not asking you to ignore your child/teen’s curiosity. You can certainly have a discussion about why your request is necessary, just not in the middle of your initial request. By delaying this long explanation, you maintain your focus on compliance, which allows for your child/teen to also maintain focus on the goal at hand. You demonstrate that you are being consistent in holding the limit to stop the activity. Lastly, you stay in control by avoiding the trap of having to come up with a clever response to all the various solutions your child/teen comes up with to avoid the task.

2. Offer Choices:

Parent: “Joey, it’s time for us to go to the grocery store, put away your video game and get your shoes on.”

Joey: “But why? I wanna keep playing!”

Parent: “We’ll talk about it in the car. Do you want to wear your red sneakers or your blue sneakers?”

Joey: “I don’t want to go!”

Parent: “I know you don’t want to go. If you choose not to put on your shoes, you choose to lose video games for the rest of the night. Do you want to wear your red sneakers or your blue sneakers?”

Joey: “I want to wear my red ones!”

Parent: “Great, you’ve chosen your red sneakers, and to play video games later. Let’s go.”

When we ask a child to stop a fun activity they feel disappointed, interrupted, powerless, and often attempt to negotiate more time. This is normal, but can be very frustrating for busy parents. By acknowledging their desire (I know you don’t want to go) and offering choices, we give the child the opportunity to control an aspect of the experience that doesn’t affect our end goal. In using the word choose, we emphasize the child’s capacity to comply, and their sense of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. If they choose not to comply, then they’ve chosen to lose video games for the rest of the night/week, etc. (consequences are to match the child’s developmental age). This leaves you out of being the bad guy, and avoids the power struggle.

When we change our approach to making requests, we need to expect a behavior burst. Your child may complain louder, negotiate more, and push back harder at first. If you maintain your new approach, your child will learn his old tactics won’t work, and you’re going to hold your ground. Less negotiating will occur over time, leading to a more peaceful home.

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