4 Negotiation Strategies To Use With Your Toddler


I know you thought having a newborn was tough, what with the sleep deprivation and all, but as soon as that baby starts walking and then talking, you’re going to find out who the real boss is. Need some tips for surviving this tiny terror? You came to the right place.

1. Break down the negotiation into parts. You may have gone into this parenting thing thinking you’re in control because you have age, size, wisdom, and money. Well, you’re wrong. A toddler doesn’t respond to reason , a toddler responds to bribes. Instead of trying to get him to eat his entire dinner – which you lovingly crafted from organic ingredients and separated into neat sections onto a Dr. Seuss plate, and none of which he is willing to touch because he wants nothing else for dinner besides plain ice cream cones – try it a section at a time. If he finishes his avocado he gets a gummy vitamin. If he tries a bean you’ll let him eat that ice cream cone for dessert, and if he eats all of his beans you’ll both go out for ice cream because frankly you deserve something too for allowing this dinner to last two hours. By separating your negotiation into manageable pieces, it’ll feel more like winning a series of successful battles and less like you’re losing a war.

2. Ask questions instead of just making demands. Your toddler is used to having demands barked at him all day long. Don’t do this, pick that up, get your finger out of your nose, stop tugging at your penis in public, please for the love of everything holy don’t reach into that dirty diaper, etc. When you want things to go your way and you feel like you’re in a position of power, it’s easy to forget that when someone doesn’t want to do or concede something, there’s a motivation behind it. Try to find out if there’s a (logical) reason and address it. When your toddler gives you NO after NO in response to your demands, question him. WHY are you wiping boogers on your socks? WHY did you push the full, neatly sorted laundry basket down the stairs? You may not get real answers, but at least it’s fun to turn the tables and ask him “Why?” every now and again.

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3. Let’s say you want your toddler to put away his toys. It’s silly to just ask him to do that, don’t you think? Yet you probably do it all the time, and it becomes a cycle of him saying no, removing his clothing for some reason, and running away from you while giggling, leaving you to clean up. Then there are the tears and whining, but embarrassingly they’re not coming from your toddler. Next time approach this situation like you’re a used car salesman. You know you’re not going to get the sticker price in the end, but you have to start high in order to end up where you want. You’d like the toys to be put away? Ask your toddler to wipe off the dinner table, hand you the dishes from the dishwasher, put away his toys, and scrub the bathtub. Chances are you’ll get him to do one or even two of the things on your list because if he’s anything like his mother he will do absolutely anything to avoid having to scrub the bathtub.

4. Make concessions. Negotiating, by definition, usually means there’s something for both parties to gain. Otherwise, you’re just playing the role of the pesky dictator again. If you want your puny prince to do something that he doesn’t want to do, find a way to make him want to do it (or something close to it). Take for example potty training: why would your toddler want to give up the cushy convenience of his diaper for toilet breaks, during which a parent stares at him and asks invasive questions about his bowel movements? (He should only get to do that to you.) Find something that would give him incentive, and cut him the occasional break. He can’t pee in the baby pool, but he can go pee by that bush. It would practically be hypocritical to not let him do what his dad probably does anyway. Tell him if he does a poo poo on the potty you’ll give him one marshmallow. Eventually you’ll agree to two marshmallows and five M&Ms because you have lost valuable ground by negotiating against yourself while he holds his position. Try not to do that next time.

You may think it’s overkill to approach interactions with your pint-sized boss troublemaker with strategies used in lucrative contract negotiations. But the next time you realize you’ve been trying for hours to get him to nap and dinner is already on the table, you may need to pursue a more structured strategy. Otherwise, you’ll probably notice that without even trying, your toddler has been winning. After all, he is quite the deft negotiator.

Related post: 25 Ways You Know You’re a Parent to a Toddler

About the writer

Anna Gebert earned her MBA and bought a sporty hatchback a month before finding out she was pregnant. Now she works full time from home and thinks it's hilarious every time someone thinks she could keep her toddler son and infant daughter at home and still get work done (they’re usually not parents). Follow her on Twitter @avgebert for kid-related and other marginally humorous life musings.

From Around the Web


Clare Ashton 1 year ago

How true….. X

The Magical World of Sebella 1 year ago

OMG! That is funny.

Bells 1 year ago

Hahaha when I was four I refused to do a poo in the toilet and made mum put a nappy on me when I needed to go. She thought she’d be clever and just refuse to put a nappy on me using the logic that I couldn’t hold on forever… Well turns out I could (or at least to the point of becoming sick from constipation). After that she promised me a cubby house to start using the toilet and it worked. Mum: 1 me: 0

Jen Orchard 1 year ago

We bribe diner with blueberries she loves them and I was going to give them to her anyways. One blueberry for one bite of food. Usually works and I give her the rest of the blueberries for desert. But that about the only thing we negotiate with.

Leann 1 year ago

Lol noooo. I don’t agree with this article very much. I worked in daycare for years, at one point i was the only teacher of 8 four year old boys.
Bribing is the worst thing you can do for any situation.
It teaches them that they shouldn’t do something without a reward. It teaches them that life is about getting and not giving. There are thousands of ways to deal with toddlers and bribing is the worst!
Seriously the only thing that comes from is is selfishness.
When eating, teach your child about what our bodes need, don’t give them junk food and they won’t ask for it. Teach ten right away what is good for them an they will love it. Kids are not meant to have gross sugar. It’s so bad for them.
When cleaning show your child te meaning of teamwork and always help them. Never make them do something you wouldn’t do and show them how goo it feels toake the room look pretty
Teach your child not to want but to give. Show him how goo it feels to help others, and don’t bribe them into it.
Do we want them to learn in kindness or in selfishness.
Do we want to be bribed? No.
Do we want to be selfish? No
We want to love and share and give and help.
We shouldn’t expect anything else from our children.
They follow your lead an every moment is a lesson.

Allison Slater Tate 1 year ago

Best. Picture. Ever.

Emmi 1 year ago

I’ve definitely traded bites of my ice cream sandwich for him taking bites of corn. He eats a bite of corn, then he gets a bite of ice cream sandwich. He ate all his corn; I’m considering it a win.

Nancy McKay 1 year ago

This is great. I absolutely love the book ‘What to Expect the Toddler Years’ – it too opened my eyes to the world of toddlers

Steph 1 year ago

I ask my just-turned-three-year-old why all the time. All. The Time. I love it. His response is usually “So because I want to” or the like, but who cares? I don’t think he’s ever asked *me* why. Probably because he’s so tired of me asking him. Muahahaha – my work here is done.

Except it’s never done.

Send wine?

    Steph 1 year ago

    Oh yeah, and instead of saying “No” he usually says “Not yet,” “In a minute,” or “Let me finish this first.”

Helen Russo 1 year ago

You can’t negotiate with terrorists!
Hmmmm, maybe that’s how we should handle the real terrorists: put them in a roomful of 3 yo’s amped up on sugar?

Pamela Ready McNay 1 year ago

Why can’t we all have PhD’s in Motherhood. Because there’s no textbook or college You know why there’s no textbook? It’s “on the job training”, kids are like snowflakes…you know….no two are alike. You think you managed the hissy fit of one then you get the attitude of the other. It’s what makes parents remember that they have created a whole new person. What? Mind of your own? Grrrrr….but then it hits you later… they will grow up and on and it hurts down to your core. WAIT A MINUTE- I’LL SHOW YOU WHERE YOU CAME FROM! lol

Meghan McNulty Rykwalder 1 year ago

Awesome article!

Jenni Filipe 1 year ago

I love the toddler phase. This is my second go at it so I’m ready lol My 7 year old was a test of patience, his sister is going to be a bigger one. People demand that their children listen but they forget we’re raising adults. Yes they need to listen but do you really want them to become doormats? Or do you want them to become adults that know what they want, respect others decisions, know how to make their own decisions and know how to stand up for themselves? Instead of barking orders all the time let them make a few decisions. You’ll be amazed how much easier the day gets:)

Kristen Petruccelli Andrews 1 year ago

LOL. I was just telling someone that my 2 year old has become a master negotiator. It actually makes me laugh every time. I’ll say something like, “No, let’s not do that.” He’ll respond, “Maybe. Maybe I do that”. Or I’ll say, “Ok. We are done. It’s time to go”. And he runs up to me, puts his tiny little pointer finger in the air and says, “One more time. I do it one more time then we go”. If I let him do it one more time, he will instantly run right back up to me and do the whole thing over again.

He’s pretty good though. I find that if he isn’t doing something I want him to, I’ll either get down to his level and face him to make sure that he actually was paying attention when I said it. Or if he isn’t cleaning up when I tell him to, I ask him if he would like me to help. He typically says yes so I give him specific instructions while I pretend to clean something else up.

My 15 month old daughter is probably going to be my terrorist though. Already if she doesn’t get her way, she lets out an ear piercing scream. I ignore it because I am just not ready to try to negotiate with a 15 month old.

    Kathy Williams 1 year ago

    My granddaughter uses the just 1 more also. Recently I told her she had to put the computer away after 5 minutes. Not understanding numbers yet, she quickly went to that raised finger and said, “just 1 more” LOL kids

Kathy Williams 1 year ago

When my son was 2, he turned over a waste basket full of paper. He refused all negotiations to get him to pick up the trash. While he was in time out, I realized I had to change how I approached this stubborn monster. Remembering my daddy’s quote ‘can’t push a chain’, I wiped my tears and go to thinking. I realized the monster wanted control and I wanted control. So my solution was to give him a bit more control in things I asked him. Instead of ‘pick that up now’, I changed to ‘do you want to pick that up now or in 5 minutes’. IT WORKED. Even in teen years, ‘do you want to clean your room today or tomorrow’. In later teen years when he caught on to what I was doing it changed to ‘do you want to clean your room or do you want me to do it’. Sounds like he would of course say, ‘you do it’ but remember teens have secrets and treasures that I might find. And he knew if I cleaned his room, I would chose what stayed and what was thrown out. After he thought about this, he cleaned his own room. YEA

    Jules 1 year ago

    OMG that is brilliant!! I’m totally going to steal that for when mine are teenagers! I’m notorious for throwing everything out so I bet that will even work on my husband!

    Bethany 1 year ago

    Yes! I do this too! It’s so effective!

Erica Maust Boyle 1 year ago

In my house we call this toddler terrorism. Most of the time the terrorist wins. LOL

Kelly 1 year ago

My son is just coming up to this age now (he’s 14 months and just starting to walk) and I can see how much fun this going to be..

Cheryl Nagel 1 year ago

Do NOT negotiate with terrorists:)

Shannon Baumgartner Juarez 1 year ago

I was probably one of the few people who enjoyed the baby stage for this reason. Babies are easy once you’ve fed them, burped them, changed them, etc. They just laid there and didn’t talk back. They were even easier to take care of when you were pregnant. lol

Hayley Durgan 1 year ago

The best thing I’ve learned is to pick my battles.

Amy Moorman 1 year ago

This is my life. And the toddler is winning.

Debbie Maydak 1 year ago

I dont negotiate, time out if you don’t listen

Julie Hickman-Rincon 1 year ago

I’m sorry I don’t negotiate with terrorists! Lol, jk! That’s not really negotiating in my book. I mean yes you are the parent and chances are your child is just as stubborn as you, not me I’m perfect and so are my kids, but you have to approach them at their understanding level.

Cassi Sherman Henes 1 year ago

I tried it! I asked my son why he was wiping his hands on the dog. His reply: Maxie asked me to! Lol–hilarious!!

Michelle Jasper Gilbert 1 year ago

Phew! I thought I was going to be the only one. My house is a dictatorship, not a democracy!!

Kyri Halstead Smyth 1 year ago

Love it! BTW…hasn’t anyone written a manual yet??? Because this mommy is desperate for one!

Krista Stutzman 1 year ago

since teenagers act like toddlers I wonder if this will work for them too

Catherine Lavallee 1 year ago

I don’t negotiate with terrorists. lol

    Keeva Williams 1 year ago

    LOL! The SAME thing I was thinking when I read that! LMAO!

    Misty Rodems 1 year ago

    Ah, twin mommies unite! The terrorists lose. Lol. My twins are 3. I hope I survive until they go to school!

    Valerie Ann 1 year ago


    Catherine Lavallee 1 year ago

    My twins are now 7 and my son is 5, and things usually go fairly smoothly- especially with the twins. They know we, the parents, are in charge and they don’t even bother arguing anymore about most things.

    Catherine Lavallee 1 year ago

    I had to take my 5 year old out of a birthday party on Sunday kicking and screaming because he was misbehaving. I don’t think he thought I’d follow through and bring him home but I did. You can’t negotiate. When you say no, that means no!

    Catherine Lavallee 1 year ago

    My only negotiation has been “Do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way? I’m going to get my way so you’re either going to do it nicely the first time I ask or you’re going to do it with a punishment and me being angry and yelling at you.”

      Corinne 1 year ago

      Well Catherine, you seem like a dictator. Children have emotions, too

        Anonymous 1 year ago

        Well aren’t you the perfect parent? At least she’s being honest bc let’s face it, some days you DO end up yelling and getting angry at toddlers because, well, we’re only human and can only take so much. Yes, children have emotions but so do we.

    Bethany 1 year ago

    I totally agree. Sure, there might be a time and place for a well-timed bribe, but if it is a habit when they are two, it will be a habit when they are 5.

    I believe that children should see natural consequences. I will always try to explain things to my kids, but when they make choices, they are THEIR choices (I just limit the options).

    Picking your battles is important though. Last night, my toddler just wouldn’t eat dinner. If I had insisted, we would have had a fight. So I let her down to play, and an hour later she asked to go back to her high chair, and she finished most of her dinner.
    It was cold, but there were no fights about it.
    So, I don’t negotiate, but I also don’t make things harder than they have to be either.

    Nicole Madonia 1 year ago

    I just told my brother the same thing “Toddlers are like terrorists you NEVER negotiate”


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