Certain things become so obvious when you start seeing family interaction through the lens of negotiation. Children and even babies make noises and gestures and expressions that are designed by nature to get adult attention. Not only that, they are designed to make us emotional enough to take action on their behalf. Nothing wrong with any of that, but it can really cause parents to feel out of control sometimes emotionally as their kids learn what works when they want something from a parent.
Sometimes, it might seem like kids work against their own interests because they get their parents angry and lose privileges. But what do kids gain from those situations? With each interaction, they learn how far they can push their parent’s emotional budget before there are negative consequences. When a parent’s emotional budget is high, they are more likely to concede to a child in order to end the negotiation. They might quickly regret the concession, and then resentment can set in, and they are more likely to pick on their kids for other stuff in order to regain a sense of control. In short, our kids drive us nuts.
It is important to be an effective negotiator and decision maker with your children. As they get emotional, and do things that tend to make you emotional, catch yourself. Protect your emotional budget like it is your last drink of water in the desert. Remember that you want something. You want a calm request from them. Ask for a calm request. If they continue to be demanding or sullen, do nothing. Send them away if they are still driving your emotions. And don’t feel bad. You didn’t say ‘ no’ to their request, yet. They said ‘no’ to your request to be calm.
Parent: “I asked you to be calm and ask in a relaxed way.”
Child: “But I want to …….and have …….and ……..” (NEEDY VOICE)
Parent: “What do I want first?”
It is important not to rush this. You will know when they are really no longer feeling a NEED for something from you, and are able to ask calmly and easily. At first, it may take them a long time. Don’t save them. They will benefit most from figuring it out on their own. They might get loud though, so don’t hesitate to protect your sanity and have them be alone behind a closed door.
Stay respectful. Your job is not to be liked by your kids, but to respect them, and teach them how to respect you.
Now let’s say that you know that you are going to have to say ‘no’ to their request. It may seem unfair that they have to go through all the work of calming down in order to hear ‘no ‘ from you. Keep in mind that you are not rewarding them for being calm or any good behavior. You are making good behavior a prerequisite for even being granted an audience. If they meet the requirement, you will be deciding about the request based on what you believe is best. You have to maintain your high standards, and not get the child thinking that they get what they want whenever they calm down. All you would be doing is teaching them to be more crafty manipulators.
In reality, they will handle ‘no’ much better after they become calm. They will be better able to cognitively process your explanation, if you decide to offer one. They will be better able to come up with alternatives to their request, and maybe accept an idea that you offer. It all rests on your resolve to not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until they are calm. In fact, they will often not remember what they wanted from you. They will get distracted by something else during the time that they are calming down. They will become more independent, and more realistic about making requests.
It really does work. I have seen it work with my kids, but I had to learn the hard way. I squandered ‘millions’ from my emotional budget on my kids over the years.