Why negotiating with kids is stupid

Parents could give even the most accomplished hostage negotiator a run for their money. It comes from having to negotiate your right arm 90% of every day. Because you have a child holding you hostage. Here are 3 scenarios parents find themselves in on a daily basis. (There are more.)

Scenario 1: Getting dressed for school.

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The situation

Kids don’t like getting dressed. Unless it’s the weekend in which case they’ll be in full fancy dress at 5.07 AM. But getting them dressed for school, swimming or anything that involves them leaving the vicinity of Netflix? Well. Good luck. If you do manage to get them around to the idea of putting on actual clothes, they won’t wear anything unless it’s inappropriate. We’re talking playsuits in winter. Thermal snowsuits in summer. You get the gist. But when it comes to school uniform, there are rules that MUST be obeyed. From your point of view, anyway. And kids can sense your desperation.

The negotiation

After asking several times for your child to get dressed, you will get onto the subject of what they can and can’t wear. This will generally go something like this. (Replace tights with pants/trousers/shirt/coat…)

‘No. You can’t wear that. Because it’s not school uniform. No. You can’t wear that either. Or that. No, I didn’t let you wear that yesterday. Yes, it’s still the same rules as yesterday and last week and the week before that. I know you don’t want to wear tights but it’s 7 degrees outside and raining. What do you mean, they make you fall over when you’re tired? THAT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE! OK, don’t get upset. I’m NOT shouting. Let’s talk about this. Why don’t you want to wear them? Because you want to wear thin tights. What are thin tights? Oh you mean denier tights. But no one under the age of 80 wears those. OK. OK. I’ll buy you some denier tights today. But for now could you just wear these ones? Please. No, you can’t wear socks. I’ve already told you why. I don’t care if her mum lets her. Look, it’s getting late. How about you wear the tights and take your socks in your bag. And then if your tights make you fall over (FFS), you can wear the socks. How does that sound?’

The outcome

Tears. A stand off. And then…

‘GET YOUR BLOODY TIGHTS ON AND COME DOWNSTAIRS FOR BREAKFAST. WE’RE LATE. AND I AM DONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!’

Time wasted that you’ll never get back: 43 minutes.

Scenario 2: Eating any sort of meal.

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The situation

Sometimes kids eat. Sometimes they don’t. But even when they do, it seems impossible for them to consume the smallest of meals in anything under 45 minutes. It’s a fact that by the time children leave home, their parents have lost five years of their lives watching their kids not eat their dinner. (OK, that’s not an actual fact, but I bet it’s something like that.) Consequently, parents will do anything to get their kids to a) eat something and b) eat it quickly.

The negotiation

Once you’ve asked your child several times to eat their dinner to absolutely no avail, you will need to get creative. By which I mean, desperate.

‘Come on, eat up. If you eat it all up, you can have pudding. What’s for pudding? Well, eat up and you’ll find out. OK, I’ll tell you. Yoghurt. What do you mean you don’t like yoghurt? It’s not boring. You had one yesterday. Oh well, I’ll find you something else then. I don’t know. I’ll have to have a look in the cupboard and see what there is. Yes, it will be something lovely. No, probably not an ice cream with a flake and sprinkles. But something just as nice. Because I don’t have a Mr Whippy machine. Look, can we stop talking about this for a moment because unless you eat your dinner, you’re not going to get pudding anyway. Yes, you do have to eat it all. Why? Because if you don’t, you won’t get big and strong. And remember the children in Africa. No, you can’t just have two more mouthfuls. What do you mean, you’ll do me a deal? How about you just eat your dinner up and stop being cheeky. ALRIGHT, you can have six more mouthfuls and then you’re done. That isn’t six mouthfuls. I said six. SIX, I SAID! RIGHT, IF YOU DON’T EAT THE LOT UP THIS VERY MINUTE, I’M BANNING NETFLIX. NOW. EAT. YOUR. DINNER!’

The outcome

Dinner ends up in the bin. You’ve just shot yourself in the foot by banning Netflix. And as you’re putting the kids to bed, you’ll hear those words every parent dreads…

‘BUT MUMMY, I’M HUNGRRRRRRRY!’

Time wasted that you’ll never get back: 57 minutes.

Scenario 3: Bedtime.

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The situation

The moment you’ve been waiting for all day. Bedtime. Except, they don’t want to go to bed. Of course they don’t. And they’ve got you at your weakest. Your most tired. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying every trick in the book. You, on the other hand, can smell the gin and just want them to GO. TO. BED. There’s minimal negotiation on your part here. But on theirs, there’s plenty.

The negotiation

‘Mummy, we just want to stay up for one more episode. Just another 10 minutes. Please. Just 10 minutes! And then we promise we’ll go to bed. How long is 10 minutes? Is it as long as 5 minutes? Oh and we haven’t had milk yet! YOU FORGOT TO GIVE US MILK! I’ll do it, Mummy. You chillax there. We can even watch Neighbours if you like. Oh, please. PLEASE, PLEASE let us stay up. Look, I’ll do you a deal. Let us stay up for another 10 minutes and then you can watch Neighbours and we’ll go to bed. And we won’t get up again. Sound good? Yes? Oh, thanks Mummy you’re the best. Have you got any popcorn? But we didn’t have pudding tonight! We DID eat our dinner. WE DID… [10 minutes pass]. What? That can’t be 10 minutes up already. It’s not! We didn’t even finish our milk yet! That was only 5 minutes. THAT WAS NOT 10 MINUTES! Please can we have just one more Oggy. You said we could stay up for another 10 minutes. THAT WAS NOT 10 MINUTES! BUT WE DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED! WE’RE NOT TIRED! IT’S NOT FAIR!’

The outcome

The excruciating pain of bedtime gets dragged out to no one’s benefit. Despite the extra time, the kids still go to bed feeling hard done by. Meanwhile you’ve lost valuable gin time. Any sort of negotiation at bedtime is perilous and should be exercised with extreme caution. Or, better still, just not exercised at all. BE FIRM PARENTS, BE FIRM.

Time wasted that you’ll never get back: anything from 33 minutes to 4 hours depending upon who breaks first.

In hindsight, we should probably just revert to the old school parenting techniques, ‘Do as you’re told!’ and ‘Because I said so!’ and leave the negotiating to the experts. Share your thoughts over at Surviving Life and Motherhood or drop me a comment below.

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