“NO! I don’t like anything! I’m not going to eat!”
We had just arrived at the Guinness storehouse during our Dublin vacation.
You picture vacations as these idealized wonderlands, but, when you have kids, NOTHING goes as planned.
First, a bit of a precursor.
I was looking forward to Ireland as a chance to break my kids’ dependence on American kids meals. Most restaurants in Europe don’t cater to kids.
Since there wasn’t a single slice of pizza in sight, they had to choose from real meat, veggies and salads. Yes! This is my chance!
But then, I made a mistake. Maybe, you make it yourself as a parent.
I became so intent on my son eating a healthy lunch that I miscalculated a hangry situation.
I knew my son needed food. In fact, we had rushed right up to the food hall when we got to Guinness because he was already having hunger induced meltdowns on the walk there.
But the boy wouldn’t eat.
What I said next made complete sense to me…
In the middle of him crying and sobbing about the lack of chicken fingers, I made the deal that he doesn’t have to eat everything, but he needs to TRY everything.
To which he responded, “Oh yes mommy, I’ll try everything.”
Ya, right. In dreamland.
When you make the tantrum worse..
No, it went a little more like:
I don’t WANT to try everything! I don’t like it. I already know I won’t like it…
Sobs and wails and moans.
I took him by the hand and led him out of the cafeteria.
We sat on a stool next to this gigantic glass wall that looks down on the 7 floors below.
Shhhhhh… I whispered. We swayed and I made a deal.
Time to negotiate
Yes, I said it. Negotiate.
So much parenting advice tells you to be firm…and there is a place for that. However, at this moment your child is all angry wolf and you need to find a way to stop the growling before he attacks innocent passerby (or chews a hole through a wall).
Laura Markham, child development expert and author, enocurages those moments where your child wants to negotiate and you realize you can give in a little to make both of you happy.
She says it comes down to two things:
- Know what your needs are
- Decide if there is wiggle room in HOW it gets done
In that moment, he needed to eat. I needed him to eat. That trumped everything else.
So, I countered.
He no longer had to try everything. Just eat the bread. That’s it.
Real nutritional right? Totally ok. I banked on the fact that eating the roll would restore his depleted blood sugar and make him a rational human being again.
And it worked.
Not only did he eat the roll but he also drank all his strawberry soda, some strawberry cheesecake and..AND… one bite of ham.
To which he said, “I tried it, but I didn’t like it” – a popular catch phrase around our house lately.
The tantrum stopped.
What negotiating teaches kids
I had to pick my battle that afternoon.
Did I want to teach my child how to deal with his raging emotions caused by a blood sugar drop?
Or did I want to continue my valiant quest of getting him to eat a variety of foods?
At that moment, far away from home, victory seemed more probable for the former.
It’s ok to not be perfect and achieve your parenting goals all the time. Plus, negotiating teaches kids that every ones needs can be accommodated in a win-win situation.
And also, that it’s OK to compromise.
Negotiating creates happier kids
A study out of Japan surveyed 500 adults about their childhood relationships with their parents. It found that “Parents who combine a strict upbringing with positive attention tend to produce children who are less happy. These children were, however, just as academically and financially successful.”
Think you need to stick to all the rules? You don’t.
In fact, it seems to be better if you allow a bit of wiggle room, show your kids that you trust their needs are valid and work for positive solutions around issues.