4 Negotiation Strategies To Use With Your Toddler

by Anna Gebert
Originally Published: 
A toddler bending over and looking between her legs on a sidewalk
Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

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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