In his book How to Negotiate with Kids…Even When You Think You Shouldn’t (Viking, 2003), Scott Brown, a co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School, outlines a framework for dealing with your children using the principles of negotiation.
He identifies six principles of “persuasive parenting” that will allow you and your child to successfully negotiate durable, creative resolutions to conflicts:
- First, deal with your emotions. You need to strike an appropriate balance between emotions and reason. Be sure to identify your hot-button issues in advance to prevent emotional flare-ups when dealing with your children.
- Help your child cope with their emotions. Children are often more emotional than adults and it is important for parents to adequately address the emotional needs of their children. Parents need to prepare for their child’s emotional reactions during a negotiation and focusing on helping the child cope with them.
- Listen and Learn. In negotiation training, instructors emphasize the importance of identifying the other party’s interests rather than positions. The same is true with your children. Set aside a specific time to meet with your child to find out what they are really thinking about.
- Teach through Talk. Rather than lecture your child when trying to teach them something, begin with short reminders. Saying “homework!” may be more effective in reminding your child to study than a lecture about the benefits of completing math problems.
- Don’t Coerce, Persuade. Brown argues that the most effective limits are the ones that the children themselves establish. When a child feels empowered they will be more likely to cooperate.
- Discipline Wisely. Negotiate rules before a conflict situation arises. When it is necessary to discipline your child, be sure to do so quickly and consistently. This teaches self-discipline and helps your child internalize values.
This article was originally published in 2008 and has been updated.