The Art of Non-Negotiation
Why Do Parents Negotiate More Now?
Both Dr. Mogel and Dr. Evans, who speak to parent and school groups across the country, say that parents negotiate with their kids today far more than a generation ago. Why? Many believe their children should have more freedom than they did, yearn to make home a haven in an uncertain world, or desire harmony in the often limited time they have together as a family.
“They want their kids to like them,” says Dr. Mogel. “They sometimes almost have a grandparent attitude toward their own kids.”
Often parents negotiate with their children in the name of consensus. “The kids are so articulate at very young ages, and parents want to be democratic and friendly, and so they end sentences with the word ‘okay’: ‘Time to leave the park now, okay, Joshua?’” says Dr. Mogel. “That’s an invitation to a long, protracted negotiation.” Instead, she suggests telling kids five minutes before it’s time to leave and then taking their hands to go.
Although negotiation can help with problem-solving skills, at times it can become more like “pleading,” Dr. Evans says. And some of today’s parents negotiate out of a lack of confidence. “There are many, many more parents who are bright, confident people in their professional lives” who “are not nearly as confident in their parenting lives,” says Dr. Evans.
Laying the Groundwork Now
The way parents structure choices for their young children prepares the family for the teenage years, when self-discipline is key, says Dr. Mogel. Parents should “think about what category of daily life and behavior they really would like to let their children have some choices about” and stand by this ideal, she says.
When children learn to cope with things they can’t control, explains Dr. Evans, they develop resilience. “There’s a paradox about a lot of this,” he reflects, “which is that parents who do excessive negotiation are often worried about not having a child feel bad and about not damaging [the child's] self-esteem. Ironically, of course, what breeds real self-esteem is mastering realistic challenges and not just getting your way.”
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