As every parent knows, children are master negotiators who are good at identifying (and capitalizing) upon your weaknesses. “Kids are amazing at picking up signals,” said Gaëtan Pellerin, a negotiation expert and author of the book “Mindful NEGOtiation: Becoming More Aware in the Moment, Conquering Your Ego and Getting Everyone What They Really Want.”
With your kids, negotiations are made even more complicated by your emotional connection and the 24/7 nature of parenting, where there are no breaks. Even under the best of circumstances, negotiating is a high-stress, fast-paced ordeal—one that can hit at some of your deepest insecurities.
As Pellerin writes in his book, “[N]egotiation has nothing to do with being rational. It’s all about emotions. Successful negotiation doesn’t just require intellect, talent, skill, and training...it also requires the ability to handle emotions in real time.”
When you do find yourself negotiating with your kid, whether it’s about bedtime, homework, classroom antics or any of the million other issues that come up during the course of the day, the hardest part can be controlling your frustration, anger, exasperation, or fear. To have more control over these emotions, Pellerin advises developing mindfulness so that you can better understand your emotions.
Unlike at work, where we don’t have that much of an emotional connection with our co-workers, parenting is as intense as it gets. We love our kids and we want what’s best for them, but tied up in that love is a lot of fear and insecurity.
“Raising kids and negotiating with kids, it is very emotional,” Pellerin said. “Kids are there to explore the world, they are driven to push back boundaries, they need to separate themselves from mom and dad, but they don’t want to be alone.”
In short, kids want to be independent. But they also want to be loved and accepted for who they are, too. “As parents, it is challenging, because when they are one step away from our boundaries, that feels personal,” Pellerin said.
It’s even more complicated when we consider how many of our actions and reactions are unconscious, stemming from some of the ways we were raised ourselves. “Unfortunately, we do what our parents did to us, what their grandparents did to them,” Pellerin said. “That’s the challenging part.”
When it comes to negotiating with your kid, especially on the days when you’re exhausted or your child just keeps doing something in spite of your repeated and increasingly desperate commands, it’s important to find a way to look at the situation objectively.
There’s often a gap between what we might advise another parent to do versus what we find ourselves doing in the heat of moment. To better find that objectivity, Pellerin has developed a method he calls the C4U method, which consists of connection, curiosity, compassion, and change.
The first step, as Pellerin points out, is to understand why you’re reacting the way that you are, which he describes as finding a way to connect with yourself. When something happens and you find yourself reacting in a surprising or suboptimal way, take a little time afterwards to reflect on what you were thinking and why you might’ve been thinking that way.
For example, if you found yourself getting upset because your child just wasn’t listening to you, what was driving that reaction? Were you upset because of a perceived lack of respect? Or were you upset because of something else going on in your life?
The second step is be curious about your emotions. What are the emotions driving your reactions? As parents, we have many fears when it comes to our kids, some of which are founded, some of which are not.
For example, if you are upset that your kid got a C on a paper, is it because you are afraid this will become a pattern? Or is there another reason?
Pellerin also advises developing a sense of compassion for yourself. Being a parent is tough, and there are always going to be days when you react in ways that you don’t want. When that happens, it’s important to have enough self-compassion that you can reflect on what’s going on. “Am I behaving for other people?” Pellerin said. “Or am I behaving the way I was taught?”
There will always be people who judge your actions as parents. The important thing is to find what works for you and your family.
Cultivating mindfulness is a way to understand what you are doing so that you can change for the better. “What if I don’t react that way? Is there another way I can react?” Pellerin suggests we ask of ourselves.
If your kid isn’t listening to you, maybe it’s because they have focus issues or they were upset about something. If your kid got a C on a paper, maybe it’s because they are genuinely struggling at school. If you’re able to control your emotions in the heat of the moment, it can open up possibilities for understanding what your kid is doing and why, and leave more room for a solution that works for everyone.