The art of negotiation

The art of negotiation

Is it just me or did we enter an alternate universe where my every decision is constantly questioned? Just me? Thought so.

Having a precocious three-year-old is fantastic. You never know what will come out of her mouth and more often than not, we’re in stitches because of the absurdity of it all. Yet, there are days when I don’t know if I can take one more minute of the constant chattering, negotiation, sassiness and downright backtalk. Is it wrong that after the 10th repetition of “One minute, Lena.” I just ignore her?

Granted, there are times when I don’t need that minute, I just want it. But is wanting a second to yourself so wrong? Giving in and settling my attention on her would certainly be easier, but did I mention I’m stubborn too?  If nothing else, I want her to understand that while I might hear her request/concern/prattling she is not necessarily always my first priority. That’s life. While she might find the fiftieth repetition of what her sister did wrong that day to be terribly fascinating, I for one, am over it. I don’t want a tattler either. Serious, life-threatening stuff sure…but pulling the dog’s tail? Not so much.

I used to think myself an incredibly patient person. My husband would hit the wall and tap out hours before I could feel my patience fraying. What gives? She’s only three, I keep repeating…and repeating. Yet, I expect a lot from myself. So it’s natural that I would expect a lot from her too. I also know that she’s exceedingly clever and we are constantly underestimating her.  I’m not saying I ask her to do things beyond her capability, but we’re a family. We stick together, we respect one another and we all pitch in. Even the baby is starting to learn she can’t scream at the top of her lungs all the time, respect the peace! The babe is even learning to do laundry. Granted, she was loading the dirty clothes into the dryer but hey. Progress, is progress.

The latest fascination with negotiation though is equal parts hilarity and bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating. I’m all for a clever repartee and a sound argument. However, I’ve discovered that I only have a limited capacity for the absurd. When the negotiation spirals down into the “I want <insert inane request here>!” and foot stomping, nice mommy has left the building. It’s probably a bit much to expect a pre-schooler to comprehend the differences between “I want” and “I need”, but I’m making headway. I’m pretty sure the speech about starving children with no dinners went over swimmingly.

My latest strategies are typically two-fold and varied. Answer as innocuously as possible and distract! Apparently, “Because I said so!” isn’t super effective when every declarative statement I utter is met with, “Why, Mommy?”. Threatening is another winner, because she totally respects consequences and cares deeply about mommy being cross. Positive reinforcement has been making zero headway because it’s awesome when you have to remove the reward before you even finish offering it (due to the reverse of the desired behavior occurring). Telling the truth is also one of her fortes because she has absolutely no insight into what is true and what is a lie. Clearly, she always tells me the truth.

I have learned to be very careful to always resolve a confrontation these days. It’s not easy to see, but our bright little girl has feelings that are very easily bruised. Even at our worst moments, I always tell her I love her and try to explain why I got so frustrated with her. Deep down, she really does want to please us and be a contributing member of the family. Her capacity for affection and thoughtfulness are astounding. I continually work at making her feel valued and appreciated for all the ways she brings light to our lives.

The length and intricacies of the discussions in our house are mind boggling, but it’s pretty darn amazing to see her mental capacity at work. There are days when it’s extremely (read, impossible) to take a step back and see it that way, but hey…we’re only human.


Toddler Discipline as we know it, year three.

Toddler Discipline as we know it, year three.

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Discipline has been an evolving process since our oldest was born. It’s difficult to remember the early days but we tend to have headstrong kids who aren’t afraid to make their wishes known. Case and point, the little one is getting braver by the second and responds to the word “No!” with a wail of protest. She still complies, for the next five seconds at least.

We always try to follow the ideals of positive reinforcement, pointing out the good things in hopes of encouraging more good behavior. Harping on the “bad” behavior often begets more of the same as even negative attention in a busy household is attention focused on that child. Kids know how to push our buttons so when I start getting my words parroted back to me before I even say them, I know it’s time to change my strategy.

That said, many of the tactics we use don’t always prove effective when dealing with toddler discipline. Incentives and rewards are often shrugged aside when a stubborn three-year-old has her nose out of joint about something or other. Praise and encouragement only go so far when she has her little heart set on the sequence of events happening as she sees them.

More often than not, communication is the root of many of our difficulties. It’s not easy for a precocious three-year-old to understand parent imposed limits, timeframes or obligations like work. Sometimes, after attempting to satisfy an endless stream of “Why, mommy?”, “Because I said so!” is the only answer left. If you take a step back and try to view our hectic lives from a child’s point of view it’s easy to see why they balk when we try to hurry, or resist when we try to cajole. Their needs and wants are simple…love, attention, a full belly and some good old fashioned fun.

So as I grind my teeth in frustration after the millionth challenge of the day, I try to put myself in her shoes and find a little more patience. I’ll try to pick my battles and save them for the big ticket items I really care about…manners, kindness and gratitude being at the top of that list.

What are your tried and true best practices for discipline? I’d love to add to my repertoire!

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