The Bargaining Phase – are we there yet? Andrew Fuller on supporting young people through the coronavirus

Young people have done the right thing, now they want some freedom. Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller provides some strategies to deal with this next phase of life at home, in the third instalment of his series.

‘Can I go to Josh’s place?’ ‘Why can’t I go to the skate park by myself?’ ‘It’s Sara’s birthday and she’s so lonely. I should visit her. As long as we are two arm lengths from each other we’ll be fine. What’s your problem?’

Welcome to the bargaining phase. We have settled, if a bit uncomfortably, into the new lifestyle and we are fed up. We are grieving the loss of a lifestyle. The limitations imposed upon us all are starting to gall.

Heated interchanges if they have occurred will generally lessen into the occasional spot fire as we try to find wriggle room to deal with this.

One of the themes of this phase is, ‘I’ve been good now for long enough, I deserve a break.’

The negotiation skills of parents in dealing with requests or demands from their children are at an all-time imperative.

We all wish this wasn’t happening. Some of us will wish so hard we will make believe that it isn’t happening at all.

The paradox facing most parents is that they would like to reduce their children’s screen time and instead catch up with their friends. Then comes the unhappy realisation that most of their friends and a lot of their learning is… online. So much for banning devices in school time!

What young people may think

Some young people have been living the online lifestyle for years and will barely notice any shift in their usual way of doing things at all. For them, this time is like giving a duck more time in a pond.

Some may even venture into tirades about how previous generations (i.e. their parents) failed to anticipate pandemics, look after the environment and generally care for the needs of future generations (i.e. them).

What young people may feel

Young people who are gaming their hearts out may be on a dopamine high and aiming to reach the highest possible level of computer game nirvana. The only blight on their horizon is when a pesky parent requests they stop playing.

There is a high risk of pushback on this. Some will leverage this to the hilt to get more gaming time asking, ‘What else is there to do besides playing computer games?’ or, ‘If I go out I’ll get sick, what sort of parent would make me go outside and place my life in danger?’

Others will pace the house like a bored panther in a zoo. Bored, irritable, demanding and frustrated. Complaining and arguing is one way of alleviating their boredom and displaces a bit of stress at the same time.

What you may see

While young children may be diverted and entertained by a cunning mix of board games, art activities, books and clips of cats doing weird things, for families with teens, life may not be quite so rosy.

Parents of older children and teenagers may feel like they have gone back 10 years and their 14-year-old is acting like a four-year-old, demanding, ‘I want it now.’

Negotiators come out with high-stake claims and often lack a fall-back position. They will stake a claim and demand instantaneous resolution. Parents will need to slow down the wheeling and dealing.

While it is tempting for parents to just outline what can and can’t happen at this time, we can also use these situations to help young people to think through the pros and cons of different issues and solutions. Help them be both compliant with social distancing and inventive.

For example, if they are worried about a friend, how else could they reach out and support them. If you can’t go to the skate park, how else can you get some exercise?

What you may consider doing

Here is a chance to help your kids develop a sense of responsibility to themselves and others. Here is an opportunity for us all to look beyond considering what our own personal ‘needs’ are and think about the consequences of our actions on other people.

You could, of course, dream the impossible dream: your family stuck together in a confined place for an uncertain period of time with barely a word of discontent and certainly no flare-ups.

Do I really need to tell you, you’re dreaming?

Back in the land called ‘reality’, you will need to be prepared to make some tough trade-offs. Even though it seems your kids have been on screens all day long, you need to accept that remote school learning does not equal socialising with friends. You will need to accept that screen time will increase dramatically for the duration. Quietly plan for some adventures outdoors with good communication and connecting when this time has passed.

What you may say

There are some lines that are easy to over use with kids and will cause them to roll their eyes and shut their ears:

  •  ‘We are all in this together, you know.’
  •  ‘Some people are doing it tougher than you.’
  • ‘You should be grateful for what you have.’
  • ‘At least I’m a reasonable parent.’
  • ‘Haven’t you got homework to do.’
  • ‘Why don’t you go and read a book?’

Most parents will ‘plea bargain’ in some of these ways – just don’t expect them to work.

Instead use the RESOLVE  model:

espond with Respect – begin by acknowledging that their feelings and frustrations are valid.

ngage  – ask them to tell you how they feel.

eek understanding  – I know you value your friends and you will be missing them but they also need you to take care of them.

bserve feelings  – this is hard and it’s frustrating and no one chose life to be this way. However, it is not the hardest challenge in life and it won’t last forever.

It is likely we will cycle through the three cycles already mentioned in this series of papers – fear and bewilderment, anger, and bargaining – several times before reaching some form of acceptance.

©Andrew Fuller

You can find the links to Andrew’s previous papers in this series below.


About Andrew Fuller

Andrew is a clinical psychologist specialising in the wellbeing of young people and their families.

Stay in touch with Andrew on Facebook, on LinkedIn, through his website and on the My Learning Strengths website

Andrew’s most recent books are:

Your Best Life At Any Age and The Revolutionary Art of Changing Your Heart.

The RESOLVE method is discussed fully in Tricky Behaviours to be published later this year.