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.

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


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    • 6


      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!

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    • 7


      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.”

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        • 9

          Anonymous says

          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.

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    • 10

      Bethany says

      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.

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  1. 16


    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.

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  2. 24


    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

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  3. 27


    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.

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    • 28


      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

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  4. 29


    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:)

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  5. 31


    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

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  6. 33

    Steph says

    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?

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