The Art of Non-Negotiation
As parents, we ultimately want our children to think and reason for themselves. But with toddlers and preschoolers, a conversation about getting dressed or going to bed can quickly turn into a struggle. When is it wise to negotiate, and when is hosting a debate the wrong move?
One of the best ways to have a productive discussion with children, parenting experts say, is to set limits on their decisions.
Allowing kids to pick among several choices can foster a sense of competence, according to Kristen Kanoski, president of the National Association of Nannies. When the five-year-old girl she cares for wants yogurt, Kanoski often tells her to go to the refrigerator and pick out a carton. “To give them that choice makes them feel very important,” she says, “like they’re making a big decision.” She emphasizes that the younger the child, the fewer choices caregivers should offer.
Parents can also substitute alternatives. If a family is getting ready for a wedding and a child insists on outfitting herself in a bathing suit, tutu, and rain boots, Kanoski suggests saying, “That’s a great combination, and I would love for you to wear that later. Why don’t I lay out some outfits and you can choose?”
Such preferences can be built into daily routines and even closet space. For children who are beginning to dress themselves, parents can fill a low drawer or closet rod with seasonally appropriate clothes, says Dr. Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Then the child is free to pick from a range of outfits. “I want to exchange appropriate choices for inappropriate choices,” Dr. Mogel explains.
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