Children can become masters of deal making and negotiating, and parents often resort to bribery. The question is, when these methods of deal making become the norm for resolving conflicts or gaining children’s cooperation, who wins and who loses? When talking about interactions between adults and children - whether parents and their children, or teachers and their students - the answer to this question is everyone loses.
Deal-making and negotiating when telling children to do something they need to do results in a power struggle. (Please note that I said telling, not asking.) Saying, “Will you please get dressed?” or “Go get dressed, okay?” actually implies the child has a choice, because it is a question. Build the habit of giving children clear directions if there is something a child is expected to do. “Go get dressed,” or “it’s time to stop playing and get dressed,” are clear directions and do not invite choice.
If a child replies, "no," tries to argue the point, or ignores the direction, remind him that this is a direction, not a choice, and then walk away. Continued lack of follow through should result in a logical consequence, which is very different from punishment. A consequence is related to the offense, while a punishment is arbitrary.
How parents, caregivers, and teachers elicit children’s cooperation has lasting effects on the character traits they develop. When the children are in charge, are they more or less likely to develop positive character traits and learn life lessons that will serve them later? Are they going to develop the mindset of “What’s in it for me?” or of doing what is right?
Giving rewards for simply doing what is expected can lead down a disastrous path of children expecting to be paid for cooperating. Though the costs may seem small now, children can become talented bargainers, negotiating bigger and costlier rewards, and develop the mindset that they are the ones in charge. When the children are small, you are still able to keep them safe from their choices and decisions, but retaining that mindset when they are older can have disastrous consequences for everyone.
If you want to be in charge when they are teenagers, you need to start now. Remember, it is more important that your child respect you, than like you.
This is a post from the Head of The Experiential School of Tampa Bay, one of the best preschools in Pinellas County. To learn more about the 3, 4, and 5-year-old program at Shorecrest, we invite you to schedule a personal tour.