Are you caught in a nonstop home version of "Let's Make a Deal"? Do your time-for-bed proclamations inevitably meet with "Gotta have 10 more minutes" in reply? Where's Monty Hall when you need him?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist - or even a game-show host - to realize that it's tough to declare everyone a winner. Accommodating your child's wishes without trading away authority requires practice. But if you do manage to teach her the art of reasonable compromise, it will pay off for the whole family.The first step is to define haggle-free zones by establishing some hard-and-fast rules, says Susan Beekman, a Corvallis, Ore., conflict management trainer and coauthor of "Battles, Hassles, Tantrums and Tears." When parents proclaim specific territory off-limits for dickering - homework must be finished, bike helmets worn, baths taken - then children have clearer expectations for their behavior.
In some instances, the issues won't necessarily be so clear-cut. Take time with your spouse to mull over any recurring family hassles and be honest about which situations are open for debate. Some parents are adamant that kids snack only in the kitchen, while others have a high tolerance for crumbs between the sofa cushions. Agreeing ahead of time on the nonnegotiables can eliminate "But Mom said I could" as a bargaining chip.
Don't get carried away, though, in dictating house rules. While it might seem easier to tell your children, "Just do it," they need to develop their own judgment, says psychologist Charles Schaefer, author of "Teach Your Child to Behave." When they're encouraged to think for themselves, youngsters are prodded to move beyond begging and whining ploys and to come up with arguments that make sense.
And such logical subtleties are fully within their grasp. Kids around ages 6 to 8 can anticipate cause and effect and explain their point of view, says Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist in Bethesda, Md., and the author of "Playground Politics." Parents can plant seeds for thought when they ask provocative questions instead of rendering immediate verdicts, Greenspan adds. If a child pleads to watch an extra hour of TV, for instance, find out how she plans to get her math homework done.
Obviously, parents should also freely say no if a situation warrants it; kids need to learn they can't always have their way. Be sure, though, that you think your own position through. "Because I said so" will sound pretty lame when she cites sound reasons for you to change your mind.
Other bargaining tips: To avoid rehashing the same debates, work out arrangements to cover the usual trouble spots. Although you may prefer to have weekend chores started right after breakfast on Saturday, agreeing to your child's proposal to finish by dinner might make her more likely to comply. Then again, some negotiations are ill-timed and are better tabled for a while, especially when a discussion starts to deteriorate into an argument.
Don't forget that as your child develops her bargaining skills at home, her relationships with peers may also improve. Through this process, kids learn to "rely on ideas to get what they want, instead of using negative behavior such as pushing or name-calling," says Greenspan.
So take heart as you work through the delicate verbal maneuvers. One day, the surprise behind Door Number Three may be a child who knows when to plead for 10 more minutes - and when to say, "No problem, I'll do it right now."