Fatherhood Friday: Negotiating

Negotiation - 1Let me say up front that I negotiate for a living. That is one of the main functions that I perform on a daily basis. So you would think I would be good at it. Some days you would be right. Some days you would be wrong.

As I write this I am currently enjoying the pitter-patter of some additional little feet in my house. And it is a blessing that is beyond belief. I am so thankful to get to be an influence in these children’s lives in the absence of a real father figure in their lives.

And I think I am a little more observant at this point in my life than I was when I was younger and raising my own two children. I don’t recall someone flipping a switch and one of my grandchildren suddenly embracing the “terrible twos.” It’s almost like she was reading a magazine article written by another toddler that inspired her to begin consistently using the word “No”, or reverting to guttural grunts instead of using her incredible vocabulary.  But a switch has been flipped.

Negotiation - 2Now I’m not a pediatric psychologist or anything, but I’m sure this is all part a child’s natural development – she’s developing her own independent personality and part of that is testing boundaries and also understanding the dynamic between a stimulus and a reaction. Having said this, as parents (and even as a grandparent living in the same house), it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Also at play here is a paradox that all father’s struggle with – trying to balance protecting a child from getting hurt versus consciously allowing them to fall or get hurt so they can learn more about those boundaries that we have established for them and that they are constantly testing. During the first two years of childhood this balance is not overly difficult to manage – for most of the first year you allow your baby to develop their neck muscles, try to crawl, hold a bottle, and finally walk on their own. Sure, there’s some steps you can take to prevent unneeded injury, like adding table bumpers, but overall the baby needs to learn how to execute these essential tasks.

Fast forward to age 2 where there is much more advanced control of motor skills.  But these little ones are still constantly teetering on the edge of serious injury. With this new physical competence there is also an ever-maturing personality and one that is determined to get exactly what they want all the time. As a parent, we of course know what is best for our children, particularly in the area of what actions will end up with a gaping wound, broken limb and a trip to the emergency room.

Negotiation - 3But we struggle knowing when to let them figure things out for themself and allowing them to fall, experience pain, cry a little, but hopefully learn a valuable lesson as a result. With that said it is also important for our children to learn what is right and wrong based on our guidance, feedback, and instructions.

This will ultimately end up being an important life-lesson. As good parents we would never dream of letting her try cocaine one day just so she can experience the side effects and learn on her own how harmful cocaine can be.

So what is the point on Fatherhood Friday? 

Dealing with an energetic and bright toddler requires parents to enhance their negotiating skills. Why? Because toddlers are like terrorists — You simply cannot reason with them! However, unlike terrorists, you should always try to negotiate.

With any negotiation, it’s all about leverage, and with children you have a plethora of leverage points to make him/her do (or not do) something. For many little ones the best negotiation tactic is exploiting media to our advantage.

Consider this scenario.

Setting: – We are in the family room with Justin Time / Mickey’s Club House / Backyardigans / Super Why! / Doc McStuffins on television. Your little one is causally watching the show, but also playing with toys. Inevitably, they will wander over to the bookshelves with the spring-loaded door catches.  She then begins to play with them by opening and shutting them with some degree of force.

Negotiator: “Little Angel, please leave the bookcase doors alone.”

Little Angel: “No!”

Negotiator: “Please stop that or you will pinch your fingers and get hurt.”

Little Angel: “No!”

Negotiator scratches his head, grabs the remote control and pauses the television show playing (courtesy of Comcast and my DVR).

Little Angel: “Justin Time?” or “Mickey?” or “Super Why!?”

Negotiator: “Do you want your show back on?”

Little Angel with blank stare of confusion and annoyance.

Negotiator: “If you back up from the bookcase doors and sit back down you can have your show.”

Little Angel with blank stare of moderate defiance but with weakening resolve.

Negotiator: “If you sit back down, then you can have your show.”

Little Angel gets down and the TV show resumes.

This will of course be like washing your hair – “Wash, rinse, repeat” and you can be sure that we will repeat this episode again in 15 minutes.

Negotiation - 4Perhaps someone reading this will find it pathetic that I am advocating negotiating with a 23 pound 2 year-old. But it’s often the best way to keep our sanity. Outside of spanking or issuing a “time-out” (both of which we have also employed in certain situations but will not advocate or debate here), negotiation is a considerable tool or tactic to keep our children in check. Just be prepared for a lengthy and frustrating process as they will get harder to negotiate with from time to time.

Of course you could always hire a professional like me to negotiate for you. Or how about hiring a Teamster Union President to represent you and deliver the terms to your child. Yeah, that would work.

Photo credit: jonny goldstein / Foter / (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: zanzibar / Foter / (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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Photo credit: cursedthing / Foter / (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Photo credit: _kristy_ / Foter / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

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