Negotiating effectively with your child

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Your child requires your guidance to develop self-control and self-regulation to live, learn and interact with others. Though they learn not every desire can be fulfilled immediately, it’s an ongoing challenge teaching them this, along with the fact that they don’t always get what they want.

According to Karen Tan, Senior Psychologist, Department of Child Development, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, not every situation needs to be negotiated.

Citing mealtimes as an example, she says, “[…] [You] may say, ‘Can you come to the table now?’ ‘No’ may be a reasonable response to the above instruction, since it was couched as a question. If it is not a matter for negotiation, the instruction should be phrased [as] ‘Please come to the table now, we’re going to have lunch.’”

Here are some two tips for negotiating successfully with your child.

1. Give real choices
Asking your child “Would you like your lunch served in a bowl or plate?” enables them to make a choice. In this case, they get to choose the type of dishware their food comes in. Giving your child autonomy to make their own decisions allows them to grow up to be empowered and independent individuals. Children need time and opportunities to practise making choices and learning from mistakes, while parents should supervise them while providing encouragement.

2. Be firm and redirect
As a parent, you’ll encounter scenarios where your child is likely to disagree with you. Acknowledge their feelings, focus on the task at hand and suggest an alternative. For example, you can say “We agreed before we left the house that we are not going to the playground. We have errands to run. I see that you are upset, but let’s save playtime for another day”.

Joan Yap, a mother of a five-year-old boy, says he throws loud tantrums to get what he wants. To redirect his behaviour, she states the rules and limitations and offers alternatives. When her son bangs the utensils on his plate, she tells him to only use them to pick up his food.

Joan also tells him that instead of causing a din with the utensils, he can drum his hands on his thighs to a tune he likes. In the meantime, she gently guides him to use the cutlery properly; by doing so, she teaches her son the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Negotiating effectively is important in developing self-control and a way of imparting values to your child. Aside from building confidence, critical thinking and independence, they learn how to make meaningful choices as they mature into adults. Ultimately, negotiating is about respect; respect your child and they will respect you.

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