Is your child always trying to negotiate for what they want?

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A former police negotiator and parent shares some wisdom.

Bedtime, television, cleaning … Are your children always trying to challenge the family rules? This perpetual struggle can wear down the best of parents. Former police negotiator and French author Laurent Combalbert knows all about it: “I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life preparing and conducting the most complicated and dangerous negotiations in the world. But they are a far cry from the intricacy of those I have to deal with at home.” In his book, How to Become Better at Negotiating Than Your Kids,” Combalbert explains how to put an end to constant bickering and restore peace at home. 

Define what is not negotiable

What is the Achilles heel of any parent? The paralyzing affection that seizes them whenever they’re faced with tearful pleas that sound logical. But we mustn’t forget that “the relationship parents have … also requires saying ‘no’ sometimes,” according to Combalbert.

“It is vital to determine what is non-negotiable, the rules that should be explained, but must never be questioned,” says Combalbert. In matters of cordiality, safety, respect of others, and Mass attendance, each family has its own set of rules, but whatever the non-negotiable rules are in your family, they must be clearly articulated by the parents and clearly explained to the children. 

Taking time to explain the rules

Does this mean that you can bend some rules? Yes, but “negotiating is not yielding,” offers Combalbert. “Negotiate on the style, but not the substance. ‘You must clean your room’ can become ‘You may clean your room before going out to play.’”  

Finally, negotiating with children doesn’t mean you can provoke them or wash your hands of all responsibility. On the contrary, taking time to explain the rules and determine how children will be held accountable means answering the questions kids may have. This productive exchange helps avoid crisis, reinforces parental authority, and protects everyone from tyranny. This is the peaceful arsenal that no force (no matter how cute) can oppose!

Élisabeth Caillemer


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