Michael Grose: Why doing deals with kids is a bad idea – and five better approaches you can take

Doing deals with kids to get their cooperation should be a strategy of last resort, writes leading parenting expert Michael Grose. He offers better suggestions to get them to behave well.

Have you ever said something like this to one of your kids? ‘If you eat all your dinner up, I’ll let you use my iPad for five minutes.’

Most kids under the age of 10 would empty their plate in an instant with that sort of carrot dangled in their face. But it’s a tricky game you play when you start to do deals with kids to win their cooperation. For a start, you need to be prepared to raise the stakes as the novelty of five minutes of iPad use will soon wear off.

This would also mean you need to be prepared to keep dealing with your kids, as they soon learn that if they hang out long enough, Mum/Dad or whoever will offer me a juicy enticement to win my favours.


You get what you negotiate

Keep doing deals with kids enough and they learn that they get what you negotiate. That’s fine in the business world, but hard work in families.

I’ve seen mums who deal with kids because they just want peace and quickly. I’ve also seen dads deal with their kids because they simply enjoy negotiating. They see it as a game. That’s hard work for their partner who doesn’t use those methods.


Kids who do deals

Sometimes it’s kids who do the negotiating. ‘You want me to go to bed at 8.00pm, do you? Well I’ll go to bed at 8 o’clock if I can have a TV in my room’ says a born negotiator.

It takes a savvy parent to say, ‘Actually, no. That’s not going to happen.’ Sometimes we become involved in child-initiated deals before we’re even aware it’s happening. Again kids can take advantage of busy, tired or time-poor parents.


The last resort

If doing deals with kids to get cooperation is a strategy you use then it should be a strategy of last resort (to use when your mother comes to visit; when you are dog-tired; or when you want a cosy Sunday morning in bed), not the first one you use when you want your kids to behave well.

Here are five alternatives to ‘doing deals’ with kids:

  1. Catch them doing the right thing. Make a bit of a fuss when your kids behave as you want. Tell your face that you are pleased with your kids so it lights up, and kids get to notice you are happy with their behaviour. This is based on the premise that parent recognition (‘Mum/Dad is happy with me’) is a high driver for many kids.
  2. Reward them after the behaviour you want. Avoid saying, ‘If you behave well on our shopping trip I’ll buy you a Matchbox car.’ This is bribery, which is tied up with the art of dealing. Instead, show your appreciation with a treat after they have behaved wellThe order of events makes a huge difference!
  3. Manage like a cat. There are times when a child or teen needs to know that ‘No means no’ rather than ‘No is just a suggestion’. A message delivered with firm body language, a still head and a clear, flat voice without intonation indicates to a child or teen that you are serious and that no further communication is to be entered into. This non-verbal communication is quite cat-like, thus the cat metaphor for parent credibility.
  4. Let consequences be your friend. Let your actions, or lack of action, do the talking. Rather than negotiating with kids to pack their toys away, put toys that are left around into the ‘mystery bin’ for a time. You may need to hold firm to a tantrum when you use this method, but hang tough so your child sees that you really mean what you say and do.
  5. Focus on you, not them. Want them to go bed on time? Then start reading their bedtime story at the agreed time whether they are there or not. (This works well if your child is a reader! Not so good if your child isn’t interested in books. It’s the principle that counts). Resist calls for ‘that’s not fair!’ as not being in bed at an agreed time is not fair on you either! The simple shift from telling them what to do to telling them what you will do makes a massive difference particularly when you have a child who doesn’t like to be told what to do.

Nothing works all the time so smart parents know they need to have a number of different strategies at their disposal when they want cooperation from their kids. They also have a hierarchy of responses that places ‘making deals with kids’ their last resort, rather than their first option.

In fact, it may be best to leave doing deals out of your parenting armoury altogether and focus on using other communications methods instead.

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About Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation and the best-selling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. His latest release Anxious Kids, was co-authored with Dr Jodi Richardson.

We thank Michael for allowing us to repost this blog, which originally appeared on his Parenting Ideas website.