Too young to negotiate? No way! Your three year old has likely already has begun the process. At bedtime, “I’m thirsty” [ie, not ready for bed], ” I need another story”. “I need to kiss you again”. Sound familiar? They have begun. Time to negotiate? Absolutely. They know their own needs and wishes and you have years ahead of you to deal with their desires and yours.
Here’s the good news: conflict is an opportunity for resolution and your child can learn an important communication skill. It helps not to see your child’s effort as decision-making NOT only as an attempt to challenge your authority (though that has it’s own meaning, to advance their eventual independence) but rather to recognize it as a sign of sophistication, intellectually and socially.
At this age, children understand your saying “If you are quiet at the doctor’s, we’ll get ice cream after”. they get the “if…then” statements. Compromise becomes possible when children are able to delay gratification. Compromise is an important tool in life, in so many ways. Children who learn to negotiate in pre-school have an edge. When others want something of his/hers, they an say “I’ll let you play with this if I can use yours”, etc. Such children can more easily cope with the increasingly complex social interactions they face in school. when they are able to express themselves, there is less likelihood of physicality.
You can encourage your child’s negotiating skills before elementary school. Encourage him/her to make decisions, within certain boundaries that you have set. For example, “Which of these 3 dresses would you like to wear”? [not the whole closet full]. Your child sees you value her opinion and she still gets to make a choice.
Of course, certain things are NOT negotiable (safety, etc.) though you can still deal….”if you let me strap you in, we’ll listen to your favorite music, etc.”.
Let your children hear you negotiate with other adults. Be sure they hear you say, “Honey, you made dinner so I’ll do the dishes,.” Little ones repeat what they see and hear more than what they are told.
Let your child win some negotiations. There’s nothing like success to motivate them to try again. Enjoy and celebrate their new level of skill .