Conversation and Negotiation

Parenting involves (patience, time, planning) * infinity

Picture by Anu Anniah

Unlike in the workplace, parenting does not start at 9 am and end at 6 pm. It is like a call center — 24/7 support!

When kids are younger, they tend to listen to us a tad bit more. There is a little bit of hero-worship, and we can manage to get away by issuing edicts or doling out timeouts.

As they grow older and become thinking individuals, edicts don’t work.

The Power of Conversations

For as long as I can remember, we have always had conversations with our daughter. Whether it was about enrolling her in summer classes, or organizing her birthday party, or buying her clothes. All decisions took her opinion into account. Her viewpoint mattered.

However, when she was younger, we also spent a lot of time ‘convincing’ her to do certain things. I had to invest a lot of time for this. For example, there was a time when I wanted her to participate in a group dance in our housing society’s cultural program. As usual, her first instinct was to resist it. I didn’t rush her. I set aside time. I spent almost half an hour with her going back and forth, answering all her questions until she agreed to participate. When she finally started practicing for the dance, it was her decision. She was not doing this under duress.

I checked again the next year, but she was vehement that she would not participate. Her participation the first time was important because I wanted her to experience it once. I did not pursue the argument the second time. I respected her choice.

I believe that is a very important thing for parents to consider. Do the kids feel like whatever they are doing is based on free will, or are they doing it merely to pander to their parents’ whims?

If we continue to reinforce the feeling that they are party to all decision-making, their faith in our advice and judgment grows. This also helps them think and act responsibly because they understand that we trust their judgment.

Having a Strategy

Using a little strategic thinking, and picking the right time goes a long way in some of these negotiations.

Of course, there is no guarantee of 100% success, but I have found that the success rate is definitely higher when some planning is involved.

A few years ago, we wanted to move our daughter from her current school to a new school. We had several very good reasons for wanting this change. We were not in a hurry. We had set ourselves a deadline to achieve this within the next 3 years. Broached the topic with her. She threw a fit, put her foot down, and refused to move. We gave up on the conversation.

As the next academic year approached, we tried again. We sat her down and explained all our reasons. She understood but she was clear she did not want to change schools. We dropped the topic.

Some days later, to our surprise, she picked up the topic again all by herself. All the information we had fed her had been marinating gently in her little head. She asked lots of questions about the new school, what would change for her, and so on. We answered her honestly. If we had an answer, we gave it to her. If we did not know, we admitted we did not know.

Some more marination happened. A couple of days later, she came back and told us she was ready for the change.

Here’s the thing. Years later, she has complaints about the new school and keeps recalling her old school fondly. But never once has she blamed us for moving schools. She is clear that it was a collective decision. She does not harbor any ill-will in her mind.

Contrarily, if we had forced her on day 1, insisted on changing her school, and made it happen as originally planned, she would have been bitter. Her acceptance of the new school would have been much lower, and she would have been filled with resentment towards us.

By using the combined strategy of patience, providing all the required information, not pushing the decision-making, and being supportive of her point of view, we achieved the required result in a much more harmonious way.

Using an Influencer

If influencers can help in business decisions, why can’t they help parents achieve certain goals?

In our case, my mom had an amazing amount of influence over our baby. Our kid had this view that grandma knows best. In her own words, ‘Pati (grandma in our language) knows everything’.

Mom passed away a few years ago, but at the height of her influence, we managed to get her to mention the positives of changing schools. Along with all the strategies discussed earlier, my mom’s endorsement of the new school went a long way in swaying our kid’s mind.

Timing is Everything

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Kids are the smartest negotiators ever! I learned a lot about negotiation from my daughter. One of the things I learned is that one needs to pick the right time to have critical conversations.

A bunch of friends and families decided to go out on a weekend trip. Convincing her to join such social events is tough! <eyes rolling>

The decision was made mid-week. Weekdays are fraught with tension due to school, assignments, tuition, and such like. Evenings are the worst. So I didn’t even bother broaching the topic with her.

I waited patiently until the weekend. We had a lazy breakfast and were sitting around chatting when I picked up the topic. She didn’t agree immediately. We had to have a ‘long’ conversation. But the timing made a difference because she was in a receptive mood!

Although she was reluctant, the patient conversation, and the overall mood at that point in time prompted her to agree to join us for the trip.

Knowing When to go to Battle

All battles are definitely not worth it. The time and effort spent on a battle are crucial. You need to carefully think through which battle you want to invest in.

During the summer holidays — watching too much TV versus not eating well enough. Which battle would you pick?

I will not hesitate for a moment. My battle would be about ensuring proper eating.

It is the summer break after all. It does bother me to see the couch potato. I do make a few attempts to reduce TV time. But it doesn’t work too well. I give up.

Because I have more important things to argue about. Not eating enough fruits. Not drinking milk. I would much rather invest energy in ensuring this. TV time will reduce automatically when the school year begins. But good food habits need to be reinforced at all times.

Are we Fussing too Much?

Shouldn’t kids just listen to us? We do everything for their benefit, so they should trust us and listen to us, right? What is all this stuff about strategy and patience and stuff?

That is definitely a school of thought. However, I am quoting from my experience. When we respect the child and their views, and treat them as equals, we build openness and trust. They have thinking brains, and are much smarter than we give them credit for.

This approach has worked for us more often than not. Relationships take effort. Life at work takes effort. Shouldn’t something as hugely important as parenting take effort and planning?

When kids see that their opinions matter, they are more likely to pay heed when we really push something. They realize that this one is probably important because mommy is putting up a fight!

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