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Life Ready Kids – Negotiate, Not Manipulate


There are two things that are pretty sure to get me on my soapbox.

1. Parents who beg their kids into compliance. These are the parents that are at the store begging and bribing their kid into doing what they were asked to do. They use phrases like, “If you put back the candy, we can stop at McDonald’s on the way home.” These are the kids that are in full whine and rage mode that suddenly transform into happy kids when they get their way.

2. Kids who whine, pout, and do everything but obey. The parent asks them to do something and they immediately come back with their reasons for not obeying.

I tend to be of the camp that kids should be quick to obey. If you were a mouse in our home, you would have heard me say, “The right answer is: ‘Yes, mom.’” There are some things that require they obey, not argue against.

I also believe that when possible it is good to give choices, but their choices have limits. We may say, “You can choose to run, skip, or walk to me, but you do need to come.”

Here is the problem, obeying quickly and not arguing are great life skills and make family life way more fun for us parents. As adults, obeying and not pushing back on all the rules helps us avoid a lot of drama and keep our jobs. However, as adults, we also need to have the ability to negotiate, to bring up options, protect our interests, and prioritize things. In order for our kids to be ready for life, they need to learn how to negotiate, and home is the best place to learn.

The focus of negotiation skills is to give your kids a framework for protecting their own interests, values, and priorities. How should they react to a peer or adult who is asking them to compromise a value? It also gives them a way to process conflict. Too many kids lack a framework for dealing with conflict and instead resort to stuffing their emotions (and taking it out on someone else or on themselves), or trying to get their way by passive aggressively working around the problem.

At Project Patch, we work on two key life skills, being respectful and responsible. We also teach negotiation, but it always is in the context of respect and personal responsibility. The tool we use is an acronym called DEARMAN*. There is nothing special about the acronym other than it being weird enough that it is harder to forget.

Describe: Tell the person specifically what you observe and what you’d want. This is a time to be very clear and stick with the facts.

Express: Share your feelings and opinions about the situation. Don’t assume that your feelings and opinions are self-evident. Too many times, we assume other people can read our mind and this gets in the way of problem solving.

Assert: Be very clear by asking what you need or what you are saying “No” to. Once again, don’t assume that others reach your conclusion. It is important to remember that being assertive doesn’t mean you are being aggressive. This isn’t an emotional attack, it simply is making clear the outcome you want.

Reinforce: Share how the outcome you want will lead to a win-win situation. Take time to share how you see the choice reducing negative consequences or increasing positive consequences for both parties. This isn’t a reward or bribe, but instead is a thoughtful look at your personal motivation and how it would serve their interests as well.

(Stay) Mindful: This is a word that is often misunderstood. We use it in the context of awareness and remembering key things. In conflict situations, it is very easy to get off course and begin arguing or debating side topics. It is important to keep focus on the issue you raised and be aware of getting emotionally pulled into their mess.

Appear Confident: Focus on projecting confidence. Use a confident voice, maintain eye contact, and hold your body in an open and strong position. Most of us don’t enjoy conflict and don’t feel too confident. Yet, because you are in conflict to protect your interests, values, and priorities, you have to communicate the strength of your conviction with your physicality.

Negotiate: While all these tools are all about talking to get your way, this step recognizes that there may be alternative situations to the problem which you haven’t considered. The focus is finding what will work and may require a back and forth. The key is to remember what your objectives are and to assess whether the solution is adequate.

So, how do you teach this to your kids? First, model pieces of it when ever you can. I want my girls to watch me as I return things at a store, or deal with small challenges with people. I want them to see how I show respect and focus on clear communication. Yes, I don’t always feel great about how I handle things, but even that provides a chance of for me to share.

Second, don’t right all their wrongs. Coach them to work things out with friends and teachers. Too many parents step in and solve their kid’s relationship conflicts or work out complicated things with teachers and coaches, and the kid misses out on a chance to learn.

Third, practice makes perfect. Identify times in which there are different options or conflict in your family and have them use DEARMAN* to make their best case. Walk them through each step and give feedback. Don’t teach this when emotions are high, but do use it for easier disagreements so that you both will feel more comfortable when it is a bigger conflict.

I know this can feel uncomfortable and it may be easier to retreat to, “Because I said so.” However, us being comfortable as parents isn’t the goal. The goal is raising great adults, and that requires us to find a balance between obedience and negotiation.

Question: How did you learn to negotiate? How are you teaching your kids to responsibly push back and negotiate?

* Part of the Interpersonal Skills Module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

3 Comments on “Life Ready Kids – Negotiate, Not Manipulate

  1. Thank you! This is one of the most clear explanations of good leadership style and positive conflict resolution that I have seen. For me, equal parts reinforcement and reproof. In short, I learned something!

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Resolving conflict takes a lot of practice but can require a lot of teaching, coaching and patience from us parents. I know I miss a lot of teaching times but solving problems for my kids and staff. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I received an email from a parent that clarified things for me. She shared that they taught negotiation but were firm on obedience when it came to safety and determining age appropriateness. What do you think about that suggestion?