During and after divorces, conflicts among parents and children are much higher, due to the stress of changing lifestyles.
Helping children coping with divorce is not easy. When issues arise, there is sometimes a knee-jerk desire to just please them all the time because of our own guilt. One of the ways to mitigate some of these conflicts is to empower your children with the ability to negotiate with you. Negotiation always takes more time and patience than just saying, “I told you so,” or “Because I am the parent,” but its rewards are much greater over the long-term. So if you are in the throes of divorce, or are trying to navigate parenting post-divorce, here are some helpful guidelines on negotiating with your children. It will take a lot of practice, patience and love, but you will have a stronger relationship with your kids. And eventually, your children will grow into very effective communicators as adults.
When siblings fight, they frequently call their parents for help, to side with them or help them to win. Your child wants something and badgers you repeatedly. Your child has broken a rule and done something which requires consequences. You have a child who tries to negotiate everything. Each of these scenarios present a wonderful opportunity to help your child learn how to negotiate.
The skill of negotiating is what separates those adults who get what they want in life, versus those who do not. Women, particularly, have a tendency to shy away from negotiating. Linda Babcock states in her book, Ask for It!, that women make three-quarters of a million dollars less than men over the course of their career lifetimes, due to women not negotiating.
Parents can give their children a leg up by teaching them to negotiate during their formative and teenage years. As with any other skill, practicing negotiating increases a person’s skill level. In order to get into the right frame of mind to begin teaching your children how to negotiate, parents should let go of the notion that kids have no say so or power over their own lives. Parents need to embrace the journey they will go on with their children as they negotiate everything together.
The more children have a chance to negotiate, the better they become. The better negotiators they are, the more prepared they will be to negotiate their first job offer, their first car purchase, their first home purchase. They will also be better equipped to handle difficult conversations with their bosses, clients, colleagues, significant others and even their own children. With the training, experience and practice they receive at home, they will be well-prepared for everything that comes their way as adults.
As a seasoned negotiator, I was having a chat about this with my mom one day. Her response to my suggestion that she could have taught us to negotiate better as children surprised me. She said, “How was I supposed to teach you how to negotiate better when I myself don’t know how to negotiate?” This had not occurred to me, which is why I ended up writing a short manual for parents on Negotiating with Your Kids. I am going to share some of those insights with you here.
Two of the most important qualities that negotiators bring to the table are the ability to actively listen and curiosity. As parents, we rarely bring curiosity to the table. We have spent the first ten years of our children’s lives teaching, lecturing, advising and dictating our beliefs, values and truths to them. We must slowly move away from these habits and form newer, stronger and more beneficial habits. Open your mind to listening to our children. Ask them what they think about things. Ask them why they have those opinions. Ask them why things are so important to them. You will learn so much about them that you never knew. Too few of us parents take the time to get to know our kids deeply. Be curious about who they are becoming and why they believe the things they do. Even if they do not agree with you on certain matters, resist the urge to convince, cajole or persuade them. Continue to be curious and continue to ask questions (without judgment) and listen.
Once you listen, you can mirror what they are saying. Mirroring is restating or reframing what you just heard. You can preface your mirroring by using phrases such as:
- Let me make sure I understand what you are saying. (Restate or reframe what you heard.)
- What I hear you saying is that…
- What I understand from what you are saying is that…
Another great strategy is to give your child choices. It is a great way to empower them to make the right choices. The trick here is that you need to be ok regardless of which choice they make. Come up with 2 or 3 choices which are acceptable to you. Each choice should have something that works for your child and something that works for you.
Learn how to tell the difference between interest-based negotiation and positional bargaining. When you negotiate from a certain position, the argument can escalate or hit a dead end. Instead, consider the interests which lie beneath the position. Explore why certain things are so important for them to do or attend. Instead of arguing over the fact that they cannot attend a particular activity, ask questions about the activity. Find out why it is so important for them. Ask what would happen if they could not attend. Ask how it would benefit them if they got what they wanted. Then, share your own fears and concerns. Once you have laid all the cards on the table and each knows the other’s interests, it is much easier to craft a solution which addresses most of the concerns and interests of both sides.
What’s wrong with ‘why’ questions? ‘Why’ questions usually make the other side feel defensive. It also can belie judgment from the person asking them. It is wiser to reframe the ‘why’ questions into ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions. Instead of asking “Why don’t you want to go?”, try “What are some of your concerns if you go?” or “What needs to be true in order for this to happen?” “Are there reasons which make you not want to go?” Follow up with “Tell me more about that” if you want to explore more deeply.
Finally, it is important to remember not to do any negotiating when you are upset or angry. Whenever anger comes into play, the amygdala shuts down the executive functioning of our brains, thus making it difficult to think through issues logically. Take the time to cool down. This may take a few minutes or a few days. If your child has done something which may require a consequence, don’t dole anything out until you have had a chance to cool off and process everything. Once you have the chance to think things through, have a conversation with your child about what he/she thinks is an appropriate consequence for their actions.
Learning the skills is just the start. Implementing the practices on a regular basis will help you and your child grow into stronger negotiators. Not only will you get what you want with little effort, you will be setting your children up for success in the future. They will grow into master negotiators who get the best out of life.
Revolutionizing the conversation around Divorce, one internal narrative at a time.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.