By Heather Greaves
Reiki Teacher, Yoga Instructor and Holistic Counsellor
I watched a wonderful video clip recently from a female doctor in the US who was lecturing on ‘how to communicate with your children effectively to get the result that you want first time.’ The title piqued my interest, as of course my children always listen to me first go … NOT!
She was talking about the importance of saying ‘yes’ to your children instead of them always hearing ‘no’: no, you can’t touch that; no, you can’t have that sweet; no you can’t go to the mall with your friends. It got me thinking about how I communicate with my children.
I am in my mid-40s and I grew up in Texas with a father who was of the ‘children should be seen but not heard’ and (my all-time-favourite) ‘Because I said so, that’s why’. My husband and I decided early on that this type of parenting was not going to work for us, so we opted for what I call, ‘negotiation’ parenting.
For us, this has meant that when our kids want something, they need to come up with their ‘argument’, civilly of course, and present their points to us for discussion about the importance, necessity and/or relevance of the thing or event in question.
When they were young it looked something like this:
‘Mum, I want the rainbow ice-cream.’
‘It’s getting close to lunch time, so we are going to eat our lunch first and then we can look at a treat for dessert.’
‘But I’m hungry for ice-cream now. Can I PLLEEEAAASSSSSSEEEEEE have it now?’
‘We can buy a treat for you now; however, if it’s something frozen, it will melt before you can eat it, as you need to eat your lunch first. Your choice is no treat or to wait until after lunch to have one. It’s up to you.’
‘Mum, can I sleep over at (friend’s) house tonight?’
‘Have you done all of your chores on the list?’
‘All but cleaning the cat’s litter box?’
‘Well, you can either clean it now or I will need to pick you up early tomorrow morning, so you can come home and do it then.’
‘Can’t it just wait until after school on Monday? I don’t have anything on then?’
‘That’s a new week, so the deal we made together is that you would clean the litter boxes once a fortnight or sooner if needed, and it has been a fortnight. So, your choice is to do it now and get it over with before I let you go for a sleep over, or I will pick you up at 9 am tomorrow to do it. It’s your choice.’
When children are younger, it is important to train them in the art of negotiation. Such a program also trains you as a parent to be more present and to listen so that they feel heard and their thoughts and ideas validated.
As they become teenagers, the conversations become more like this:
‘Mum, I have been thinking,’ (when your teenager starts a sentence with these words, you learn to pay close attention).
‘You know how at school we are required to have an iPad or laptop for year 9…’
‘Yes, and you are in year 8 and you have an iPad …’
‘I know, but just hear me out. My iPad is already three years old and is soooo slow and doesn’t have any memory capacity, and I can’t do my homework on it or print from my iPad. So, to save you and Dad money, it would make sense to just buy me the laptop now. Right?’
‘Well, that does make sense to me, so why don’t we speak about it tonight at dinner with Dad and see what he thinks?’
‘Okay, thanks Mum.’
At dinner my daughter broached the subject with the whole family and it was decided that indeed she would benefit from having her own laptop. My husband ordered one the next day and she now has it for school.
Here’s another example of parenting by negotiation. Our daughter, now 13, has had a job working every Saturday morning for the last 12 months, cleaning out stables and feeding horses. She got the job to be able to maintain her horse. Recently, she needed a new saddle because she had outgrown the one she had, so we told her she had to pay half. The deal she has had with her father is that he matches whatever she earns, dollar for dollar. He puts the money into her savings account, and she has to put at least half of her earnings into the same account.
So my daughter shopped around and found a great saddle sale where she could buy one priced at $3,200 for $2,200, if we traded in her old saddle. Because of the deal with her father, this meant she had to come up with $1,100. She checked her account and found she had managed to save that amount from her prior year’s work and was therefore able to buy the saddle that week. It gave her such a sense of achievement and a greater appreciation of value for something she had worked hard to earn.
My husband and I believe that parenting by negotiation is an invaluable tool that will serve to help our children achieve the life that makes them the happiest.
When you know how to negotiate to get what you want, what more can any child or parent ask for?