4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child

As parents, we play an ever-changing role in our children’s lives. We remain limit-setters and boundary markers throughout our children’s lives; but, our limit-setting role changes as our children mature. We want them to internalize “non-negotiable boundaries” and learn to establish more negotiable boundaries independently. So, we negotiate some boundaries with them. Yes, negotiable boundaries do exist. For instance, a non-negotiable limit may include: “Everyone has chores to do in our home. Everyone is part of the household so everyone does work in our home.” From that non-negotiable limit, you can begin to negotiate which chores each child will do, how often they will do it, when they will do it, and even in what order. At times, you may even negotiate a change in chores for a day or two based on schedules or some other circumstance. Another non-negotiable limit may include “Our family sleeps at home. We do not stay out all night at parties or our boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s houses;” and, “In coming home at curfew time, we respect other family members’ comfort and sleep.” From these non-negotiable limits, you can begin to negotiate the specifics of curfews—how late is curfew on a school night? Are there nights we want to stay home so we can have a family night? What about weekends? Can curfew be modified for special events like the prom?  …you get the idea. There are non-negotiable limits and from those non-negotiable limits you can begin to negotiate specific boundaries.
I can hear some parents saying, “Wait a minute? I am the parent…. I do not negotiate with my child!” Yes, you are the parent. However, when we discuss some negotiable boundaries with our children, we teach them important lessons and skills. When we negotiate some boundaries with our children…
    ·         We teach our children the reason behind the limits. Discussing the non-negotiable limits and leaving room for some negotiation on the specifics helps our children learn to think through limits and the reasons for the limits. Our children will gain a greater understanding of the importance of the limit and better internalize that limit. The limit changes from “something my parents make me do” to “a limit I choose to keep.”

·         We teach our children the skills of planning and thinking ahead. Discussing negotiable aspects of limits helps them think about what might happen; the potential consequences of various decisions; and the impact of those consequences. Imagine how much pain and trouble our children can avoid by learning to think ahead as they navigate through young adulthood.

·         We teach our children the skill of “give and take.” All conversation involves “give and take” as we share ideas and information. Living with a roommate or a spouse, having a successful work relationship with a fellow-employee, developing a positive involvement in the community…these all involve give and take. Negotiating boundaries helps a child learn the skill of “give and take” through parent-child interactions in a safe environment.

·         We teach our children to “get control of themselves.” As we take the time to negotiate specifics around limits, we teach our children to respect our perspective and to respectfully consider other peoples’ perspectives in the future. We teach them how to show that respect in giving of themselves in areas of negotiable limits, not on the non-negotiable boundary…to control the impulse to give in and stand firm in the non-negotiable limits and values of life.

Take a moment and consider the non-negotiable limits you have for your children. Then, think about all the specific, negotiable boundaries that support that limit. As your children mature, take the time to negotiate those changing boundaries and watch your child grow.

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