Negotiating Agreements

22.02.2019 |

Episode #9 of the course Parenting skills to raise responsible, mature children by Roger K. Allen, PhD


Today, we’re going to talk about negotiating agreements. By using this skill, we teach our children to solve disagreements in a win-win way. They learn to think about possibilities and consequences, how to engage in dialogue, the importance of give-and-take, and the necessity of cooperation. One of the great benefits of this skill is “ownership.” Children who help make agreements view them as “their” agreements, not arbitrary rules imposed by Mom and Dad.

There is a place for parents to impose their will, particularly if family structure has been lax or children have been overindulged and feel entitled. But children won’t learn responsibility or internalize good values if we unilaterally make decisions for them.

By the time children are in elementary school, they should be allowed to negotiate some agreements, such as when they’ll do homework, what and when they’ll do chores, or which extra activities they’ll participate in (piano, soccer, dance, etc.).

As children become teenagers, they will take on more responsibility and show greater autonomy. They need to determine much of what they do. We encourage this as parents. However, sometimes their decisions affect the rest of the family. These become opportunities to negotiate agreements.

Let me share an example. A number of years back, my wife and I met with our children (twelve, ten, and eight) and shared our expectations for the summer: out of bed before 8:00 a.m., breakfast together, and chores done before they could play.

Our oldest daughter really protested: “This isn’t fair. We’ve been in school all year, and we should be able to sleep in and do our chores when we want.”

I was surprised. Here was my twelve-year-old daughter questioning my authority. I didn’t handle it well. I got angry and dismissed the kids from the table and went to my bedroom to stew.

As I thought about what had happened, I realized that my kids were getting older and I needed to allow them more control over their lives. So, we got back together a few days later, and I taught them a four-step process for arriving at an agreement.

1. Get all points of view on the table. The intent of this step is to create a common understanding before we try to solve the problem. Therefore, it’s essential that we not judge or criticize one another’s point of view. Everyone gets a chance to talk and each person can talk more than once.

• “This is how I view the situation …”

• “How do you view the situation?”

• Continue until all feelings and points of view are out on the table.

2. Identify what is important to each person. This is deeper than seeking a solution. It is establishing the criteria by which we measure solutions.

3. Brainstorm various solutions. We don’t judge any ideas but put them all on paper. We want all possible solutions to take into account what is important to each person.

4. Agree upon our final solutions. Our final solutions are selected from the brainstormed list in step three. They have to be solutions that we can all agree upon.

We began with step one. “What do you guys think? What is your point of view?”

The kids shared things like, “We’ve been in school and need a break,” “It’s not fair for you to tell us when we have to get up,” and, “We want to decide our schedule during the summer.” Judy and I listened. We reflected back what we heard to make sure we understood.

Then we took our turn stating our point of view: “You’re going to have a break and lots of free time,” “Chores need to be done,” “Summer isn’t a free ride, you have some responsibilities,” and “Having fun is important but so are discipline and routine.”

Step two: I asked, “What is most important to you this summer?” We heard: “We need a break,” “We want to have fun,” and, “We want to have some say in what we do.”

Judy and I shared what was important to us. “We want you to enjoy your summer,” “We want some structure and discipline,” and, “Everyone needs to help with the chores so it isn’t all up to Mother.”

Step three. We brainstormed various solutions—no criticizing. We wrote all responses:

• Kids do chores by 8:00.

• Kids decide when to do their chores.

• Chores must be done every day.

• Dad does all chores (this one got a chorus of cheers).

• Breakfast served by 8:00.

• People get their own breakfast.

• Clean up after self.

• Dinner together.

Step four. We accepted only the solutions we could all agree with.

• Kids decide when to do their chores.

• Chores must be done every day.

• People get their own breakfast.

• Clean up after self.

• Dinner together.

The evening felt like a win-win and the summer turned out well. Our children cooperated and did their part. Perhaps more importantly, I learned that I needed to communicate differently with my children as they grew up. I could no longer decide for them but needed to involve them in coming up with the agreements that would govern our family life.

So, my challenge to you is to think of a situation and negotiate agreements with your children, collectively or one on one.

In the next lesson, I’m introducing another skill—the valuing process—to help your children learn to think for themselves and take greater responsibility for their lives.


Recommended reading

Strategies for Working It Out


Recommended book

The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children by Glenn Latham


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