Siblings squabble. My darling grand babies are no different. They are learning to interact with the world by interacting with each other. Both of these two possess precious hearts but sometimes they disagree. Don’t we all? Learning to share, finding peaceable solutions to conflict and dealing with irritations can be difficult. Even as adults we know how hard working together rather than against each other can be.
They love to come to my house and enjoy a bit of spoiling. They love to explore all the places I will be “grandmommie” and bend the day to day rules of home. We stay up late. We eat lots of sugar. We choose what we want for dinner minus any of the yucky stuff we don’t want to eat. It’s a short amount of time and well, it’s nothing but time for guilty pleasure.
They love to play on my iPad and at bedtime, we pick a movie that they can watch before finally closing their eyes to sleep. However, these two activities can be a real opportunity for squabbles to occur. Jake wants Spider-Man and Ella wants all things Barbie. Jake wants lots of time on the iPad and Ella just wants, well, want she wants when she wants it.
Squabbling makes me cringe. I didn’t like it as a child with my own siblings, with my own children and I don’t like it with my grands.
I decided that I would take the opportunity to teach them a life skill, the art of negotiation. We started with the bedtime movie. And it worked nicely. You might find this helpful with your own children or grand children.
I set down a few rules:
1. They must come to an agreement together. No bullying. No pulling rank. No twisting each other’s arms (literally).
2. Both must win in the decision. This means that neither may get everything they originally wanted.
3. They must speak kindly and not argue.
4. If they can’t agree, we do nothing until they can agree or we do something else. We might read together instead or go straight to sleep without a movie.
5. They have 10 minutes to work on a decision.
I walked out of the room and listened at the door. Ella announces, “Yip, Barbie. We will choose Barbie, k, Jake?” “Norrr! I hate Barbie!” (Their NZ accent has an “r” sound in the word “no” ☺️).
I listen as they discuss their wants, give their reasons and list options. It was quite cute.
At the end of the allotted time, I re-entered the room for their decision.
“We are going to watch Yogi Bear. We both like Yogi.” Bam. Done. Both have smiles. Both are happy with the decision.
When it comes to time on the iPad, they have become even more sophisticated with their skills. They have learned to negotiate the terms before they even ask me for the IPad. “We are going to have 20 minutes each. ” (I usually allow 10 minute increments if I decide). “That’s a long time to wait. Are you both happy with that?” “Yip, we are both happy with that.” They set the timer and take their turns. If someone goes over the allotted time, they have even come up with a fair way to correct the situation.
When they can’t agree they allow chance to make the decision; we toss a coin or they each choose a number between 1-10 and I hold the secret number behind my back. Several times, I have explained to them that this method means that one of them looses while the other person gets fully what they want. I explain that they can’t annoy the other person or say mean things if they are the one who looses. And they have decided the fun of seeing who wins is worth the risk.
They have agreed. Both honor the agreement. Both understand their turn will come.
Negotiation is an important life skill. Coming to terms with the fact that we don’t always get everything exactly the way we want it when we want it is important to dwelling together in peace. It teaches good communication skills, understanding another person’s point of view, listening skills and problem solving.
Children like having choices. I think, learning life skills, like negotiation, early in life can make adult decisions easier later on. Finding areas in their lives that we can offer them the opportunity to discuss how they want to do things will build confidence. A few areas to begin teaching negotiation skills could be sharing entertainment equipment, what they want to wear, when to do homework (immediately after school or after dinner), or who rides gun-shot.
Children will need support, clear guidelines and good examples from adults. They also need to learn to ask for help. Sometimes, at school or on the playground, other children may not have the skills they are learning. When they get into difficult situations, knowing they can find help with mediation is also a useful skill.
Do you have other tips for teaching children to negotiate effectively? Please share them with us in the comments section. I value your insight.