Negotiating with the Dangerous and Highly Unstable

Last week Jackie Nolan-Haley told us of Fordham’s program on Negotiating with the Dangerous, which was headlined by our very own leader Andrea.  And just yesterday an article of another sort of dangerous negotiation crossed my desk – negotiating with toddlers.   And you best be careful.  Why?  The piece’s conclusion:  having a toddler is like engaging in ongoing hostage negotiations with a highly unstable person.  In my house, we’re ground zero for these kinds of negotiations with our toddler and our non-toddler 3 and 1/2 year-old likes to join in the action every now and again.  Everything is a negotiation, and yes I mean everything.

To share the pain (uh, I mean joy), here is the article’s list of 8 characteristics of such negotiation encounters:

  1. The list of demands aren’t always clear, but when announced, they are impossibly specific
  2. They protest even when you give them exactly what they want
  3. Just when you think the negotiation is going well, the subject’s demeanor changes
  4. Rational every day conversations go on for some time, then turn delusional and nonsensical in a moment
  5. When negotiations go south, they do so in a hurry
  6. Threats and bribery are omnipresent
  7. Even when you want the same thing, there still might be trouble
  8. There is no such thing as victory, only a delay of the inevitable

This last item is summed up nicely in an experience that all parents experience at one time or another:

On occasion, thanks to a combination of the vagaries of the toddler’s mood, parental preparedness (snacks!) and perhaps a fortuitous alignment of the planets, a negotiation with a toddler goes well. The toddler uses the bathroom, helps dress themselves, and even finds and puts on (!) their coat. This can cause the shocked (and relieved) parents to imagine that the days of constant battles won’t last forever. But then, when it comes time to load them into the car seat, they roll over and attempt to spin away: “I don’t want to sit in that seat. You sit there. Daddy, I want to drive!”

3 thoughts on “Negotiating with the Dangerous and Highly Unstable”

  1. I would love you all to think that this behavior ends in the toddler years…at best, it goes on hiatus and returns full blast in the teenage years! So enjoy the negotiation practice and challenges that your children give you. It will make your colleagues (and neighbors and spouse) look rational and pleasant by comparison!

  2. Negotiating with a toddler is great practice in all four of the negotiation types. However, the type of negotiation that I get the most practice with my own toddler is “Avoidance.” When negotiating with a toddler who’s rationale doesn’t match your own, sometimes its not worth it to even try. Additionally, when the toddler comes to you to negotiate, thats when you know you are in trouble.
    My first experience with this happened when my daughter was two. She was watching Robin Hood on the TV while I was perusing the internet on the iPad. She walked over to me and touched my nose (presumably so she knew she had my attention) and said “No more Robin Hood. Basketball. iPad please.” How do you say no to that negotiation?!

  3. Perhaps it too ambitious (or just plain naive), but to avoid unclear or highly specific positions, looping with the toddler could prove beneficial. This way, the parent might be able to ascertain what the true needs/wants of the child is. Also, one should ensure that the child understands one’s own interests. Thus, if she’s screaming for ice cream, asking “why ice cream” could lead to the conclusion that it has been a long day, and she’s just hungry. Also, conveying one’s own interests back to the child (e.g. that ice cream is not healthy so it should not be consumed all the time) might just go over her head (“I don’t care if its not healthy?!”), but could potentially over time lead to a mutual understanding.
    Also, imitating the Tit for Tat computer program, one could try to teach the child to work towards integrative negotiation based on create solutions. Thus, one should start with a creative attitude, and then retaliate If the child won’t take anything else than what they claim. If the child understands the hint and tries to cooperate to find a solution, e.g. that she can have ice cream twice a week (the child’s interest: Ice cream), if she eats what is served for dinner every day in the week (the parent’s interest: healthy food), one should contingently grant the ice cream.
    If, in the following days, the child does not adhere to the mutual agreement, cut off ice cream for a period as a retaliation, until it seem reasonable to try again.
    Negotiating with a child is likely like negotiating with a nation that solely cares for its own interests. If they play hardball, you do so too; if they seek a mutual beneficial solution, welcome it with a smile.

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