“Time for a Bath!” Negotiating with Your Kids


Many years ago, I asked a group of workshop participants to share their toughest negotiation challenges, and one participant said, “I want to learn how to negotiate with my 2-year-old.”  Not having been a parent at the time, I laughed at what I assumed was a joke.

More than a decade later, as the father of three boys (seven, five and two years old), I now realize that that participant was not kidding – handling your small children really is a tough negotiation challenge!

Negotiating with your kids is deceptively difficult because there is an illusion that as the parent, you have all the power.  You can always pull rank and tell your little ones, “Because I said so.”  And indeed, there are times when I lay down the law, especially when it comes to safety issues — running in the street or playing with dangerous objects are good examples.  But deep in the parenting “trenches” of getting dressed/eating breakfast/brushing teeth/taking a bath and so on, constantly pulling rank isn’t practical. It takes too long, it’s exhausting, and it doesn’t teach your children to understand why they must do the things you’ve asked them to do.  What ends up happening is that you have a power struggle, rather than a conversation about the topic at hand. Even very young children therefore have quite a lot of power in their ability to delay, distract, make noise, and generally resist doing what they are told.

In an earlier blog post, I defined negotiation as any situation where one needs to persuade or influence another party.  This definition offers a useful paradigm for thinking about conflicts with your young children.  Along with being teaching opportunities, logistical challenges, developmental phases, and testing of boundaries – these kinds of interactions with young kids are also negotiations.

As with any negotiation, it’s important to think of all of the ways you can influence the other side. How can you help your kids realize that something, such as brushing teeth, is important?  Please share your own thoughts – what are some ways that you have used to influence your kids to help them want to agree to an important suggestion?

In my next blog post I will offer a parenting tip – stay tuned!