WHAT do you do when your child asks for something that is not good for her, or for which she is not ready?
Working things out with children helps foster a positive attitude. They trust adults to listen to them before making them follow their rules. If children do not get a chance to voice their opinions and work out their ideas, they will try to get around authority. Some may do things behind their parents’ backs and tell them a different story.
However, if the issue is related to safety or health, instead of negotiating with my children, I bring out the parent’s mandate, which says: “I am your parent and I have a responsibility to make sure you are safe.” Children accept this, knowing that you care for them.
Here are 10 pointers to help you negotiate effectively with your child:
1. Listen carefully to what they say: Before you jump in to let your child know what you think, listen carefully to what he is saying. Children are not very experienced in using the appropriate language to express their thoughts and feelings.
At times, they may even confuse us with their explanations. If you are upset by what your child tells you, walk away to calm yourself down before you respond.
When children explain themselves, they are looking for understanding. Once they know that you understand them, they will be more willing to consider other ways more positively.
2. Prepare some alternatives: When your child requests for something that you do not feel he is ready for, offer him alternatives, which he may not know about. He can then compare them and list them out according to his priorities. Children work better when given choices. Their confidence grows when they make decisions.
3. Reflect your child’s ideas: Reflecting what your child is saying helps you and him understand what he is really saying. You can even paraphrase his words so that he knows you are listening to him.
For example, he refuses to attend extra tutorials for his UPSR exams because he feels they are boring. Reflect him by saying: “You feel bored having to attend extra classes. You need to attend them only for this month. You will have a long break after your exams.”
4. Be responsive: Look interested. Your body language can encourage or discourage him from communicating with you. Try to maintain eye-contact and show your acceptance. Parents can show support when they are not always trying to compel their children to change their minds.
Children feel less threatened when your body language is positive.
5. Never give in to whining or tantrums: Emphasise to your child that you prefer talking straight and not whining or tantrums. Children who tend to use tears or loud voices should not be given attention for such behaviour.
6. Use encouraging words: Instead of using putdowns or criticisms, try using more encouraging words.
7. Brainstorm with your child: Get your child to join you in making lists of things and ideas to support the points of argument for both parent and child. Children can be guided on the possibilities, and working them into their argument.
Children like being involved. They will offer ideas. To encourage them, parents can hear them out and allow them opportunities to make their ideas work. They may fail before they succeed. With every attempt, they learn better to make their ideas work.
8. Have a trial period: Once you have decided on the plan of action, give it a trial period before confirming that this is what your child will get. For example, if your child has agreed to clean his room during the week without you nagging or pestering, let him do it for a trial week. If he succeeds, you will continue with the plan as agreed by both parent and child.
9. Trust and respect: To have a successful negotiation, there must be mutual trust and respect between both parties. If parents do not feel that their children are capable or responsible enough, the negotiations will not work. Parents must provide the training ground for children to make decisions and take control of their lives.
10. Assess your plan of action: Using charts or checklists, find out whether your plans work. Children can learn to do these evaluations as part of their living skills. They have to monitor the progress. If a plan of action does not work, they will try alternatives until they get the desired results.
This article was first published here. Reprinted with permission.
Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is an author and a columnist.