The title of a fairly recent parenting book grabbed me: Negotiation Generation. How perfectly does that describe the culture and era in which we find ourselves, parenting-wise?
Negotiation is defined as “mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement.” There’s give and take on both sides; a solution is reached that is amenable to both parties. Perfect for a diplomatic process – say, a peace treaty. In parenting young children? Not so helpful.
I skimmed a blurb the author (Lynne Griffin) wrote about the book’s contents and found this passage particularly interesting:
“In a recent study of discipline techniques used by parents, the top ranking strategy, coming in at 90%, was explanations. How many times do we have to watch Charlie Brown cartoons to notice that Charlie and the Peanuts gang, along with every child, hear adult explanations much like Charlie heard his teacher, ‘Mwah, mwah, mwah?’
Neither your child nor mine wants explanation after explanation. When a child is met with a lot of chatting, nattering and blathering, he’ll join in the negotiations. If you’ve got something to say, then your child’s got something to say. If you’re having a conversation about anything other than limits or rules, then back-and-forth interchanges are wonderful. But when your child is faced with requests or expectations that are supposedly not negotiable— the talking is over.”
I like the caveat supplied by Griffin: “If you’re having a conversation about anything other than limits or rules, then back-and-forth interchanges are wonderful.” This strikes me as completely true: we parents are to foster and encourage conversation and earnest dialogue with our children. We should care what they think and say, and we should be good listeners. But– and this is a big but – when it comes to directing the behavior of our children and training them in obedience – negotiation with our children isn’t the way to go. The “back and forth interchange” amounts to an undermining of the limits parents are setting with their kids, and even of ourselves as the limit-setters. Generally speaking, the more we engage in negotiating boundaries with our kid, the less we exercise our God-given authority over them – to direct them for their good. [The balance is important, I think, because most of us parents tend toward one end or the other of the discipline-communication spectrum. We are to discipline our children and ensure they willingly obey our instruction; we are also to communicate well with them and know their hearts. Most of us lean on one end of the spectrum overmuch and go light on the other (Tripp makes this point well in Shepherding the Child’s Heart).]
In moments when my son is attempting to negotiate a limit I’ve set for him, the verse that comes to my mind is this one, spoken by Jesus in Matthew 5: “Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” The context for the verse is oath-keeping – meaning what you say and resisting the urge to ‘swear by’ some power higher than yourself to demonstrate your earnestness. But I think Jesus’ point holds true for us parents too: say what you mean, and stick by it. Our words should be truthful and consistent; we should mean them and stick by them. They should not be half-hearted and swayable.
Does this mean that we should never discuss our instruction and decisions with our children – simply expect them to obey us blindly? Of course not. But our children should be willing to accept our instruction and obey it even if they don’t like it or fully get why right then. The time for discussing it is not at that moment. Griffin says it well: “when your child is faced with requests or expectations that are supposedly not negotiable— the talking is over.”
We have been working with this concept with our 3 1/2 year old son, who adopted the habit of saying, “why?” when we ask him to do something. He says it almost unthinkingly, a knee-jerk reaction – often not really that interested in knowing why, but more as a stall tactic. My husband’s response has been this: “If you want to know why, you may ask me why after you do what I asked you to do. I’d be happy to talk to you about it then.”