Is Your Child a Negotiator?

My Daughter has always been a tough negotiator. My husband and I have said she would make an amazing attorney just like her Grandfather. She is now 19 and has crafted this behavior and only uses it for specific situations.

I take some of the ownership of nurturing this behavior when she was young. I would sometimes not give a solid "no" answer to my child. I would be wishy-washy with my answers. When raising a highly sensitive or empathic child they need very defined boundaries and a solid answer. I now understand why my daughter was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) at the age of 10 years old. She was acting out aggressively when I wouldn't give her what she was needing at the moment.

I want to share with you what I have learned through my 19 years of raising a tough negotiator. Sometimes talking to your child—especially if she has a personality that tends to be oppositional or defiant—can feel like you're in a courtroom. No parent wants to feel like they are defending their answer to their child. When we make parenting decisions in a reaction to our child's arguments and disputes, everyone loses. As parents, we come away feeling frustrated and ineffective. Our child comes away with the mistaken idea that the way to get what they want in this world is to argue. This also creates the impression that parents and children are on an equal level. A parent has the final decision and sometimes the answer will be no.

Here are some tips for Family Negotiations (these are probably best for school-age children)

In business negotiations, there's typically understood ground rules that everyone is aware of and will hopefully follow. The lines are less clear when we negotiate with our loved ones, however. When a couple or family sit down to negotiate a situation, everyone must be aware of what's appropriate behavior so that the lines of communication don't break down. Whether you are planning a family meeting about an upcoming vacation or discussing a serious breach of ethics in a relationship. Firm boundaries should be adhered to by everyone involved.

Outline the issue - It's always a good idea to frame the topic of conversation so that everyone is on the same page. During the negotiation, no other issue should be brought up. The focus should always remain on one point of contention.

Take turns - Everyone should agree that you will take turns talking and that no one will interrupt anyone while they are speaking. If needed, you can remind people of this during the meeting. You may also want to use a "talking stick" to help the process. The person who is speaking holds the stick to show they have the floor. When they are done, they hand it to the next person to speak. This is a friendly reminder to all.

Listen attentively - Listening is just as important as talking during negotiations, and everyone should agree to do this attentively. Everyone should give eye contact to the person speaking and to focus on what is being said, not just on what they think is being said.

Consciously choose discussion - Everyone involved should agree to avoid argumentative statements or disrespectful language. Negotiations, especially with those we love, should be respectful and loving, even when we don't see eye to eye.

Take a break - If the discussion is going nowhere or if people in the group are starting to get frustrated, agree that taking a break can be suggested by anyone in the room. This is an acknowledgment that the person is aware of their feelings and the feelings of others in the room, not a sign of weakness.

Forget about past negotiations - If emotions start to run high, it's easy for us to bring up other past issues when we felt taken advantage of or disrespected. Everyone should agree that the focus will stay firmly on the issue under discussion and no other past negotiations brought up.

A final word - In a family negotiation, everyone needs to understand if someone has the final say in what will happen. Is everyone's opinion equal? Or do the adults/parents have the final say after hearing everyone's thoughts? This is an important aspect of communicating so that no one feels they are being ignored or left out.

These tips helped with my family and I hope they help with yours, too. I do support my daughter in speaking up for herself and using her negotiating skills in a productive manner.

Reach out if you have any questions or need support at h.nardi@comcast.net