The Magic Number and Terrorist Negotiations

Children have access to a secret magic number, and we, the parents, have unwittingly given it to them.

If your child asks for a choc chip cookie an hour before dinner what do you say? Does it go something like this?

“No. we’re having dinner soon.”
“But I’m hungry”
“If you eat cookies now you won’t eat your dinner”
“I promise I’ll eat my dinner”
“No you won’t. I know you.”
“But mum, I’m dying of starvation”
“That’s why I’m cooking dinner. No cookie.”
“Hmph. Your mean.”
“No cookies before dinner.”
“I promise Mum, I’ll eat my dinner, I’m really starving, I cannot wait. Why cant I? Why do you want me to starve?”
“Oh  For God Sake, take the cookie. You’d just better eat your dinner.”


Guess what the magic number is?
You’ve just taught your child that it takes 6 ‘No’s’ to get to a ‘Yes’. Next time Mum says ‘No’ expect the child to ask again at least 6 times before giving up.

Dont think that if your child is not old enough to talk or string sentences together that they cannot achieve this either. Ever been in the supermarket with a screaming toddler, who is a good 10 minutes into her tantrum, so you hand over a chocolate bar to shut her up? Now toddler knows that the magic number is 10. Scream for at least 10 minutes and then I get a reward.

I have been witness to rather lengthy negotiations between parents and their 4-year-olds over  a myriad of issues.
When to leave the park,
the need for a toy at the supermarket,
how many bites of dinner before you can have ice cream.

Why are we negotiating with a 4 year old? Who is the parent? Who is the adult that is going to teach the child where the boundaries are?

In the same way we do not negotiate with terrorists, we should not negotiate with children. The same reasons apply:

“Engaging in negotiations with terrorist legitimizes their terrorist groups, their goals and their means. Talking to them serves only to incite more violence, it weakens the fabric of the democratic state.”

Engaging in negotiations with children legitimizes their goal of chocolate cookie eating before dinner. It serves only to incite more whining and arguing, and weakens the status of the governing parental unit.

Kids are absolutely going to test limits, that is what they do. What we as parents need to remember is that it is our responsibility to stand firm and draw a clear boundary.
It is easy to confuse negotiating with empowering your child. If you want to empower your child teach them how to understand limits and show them exactly where the boundaries lie.

Deflector is a master negotiator and we have to be on guard all the time. He’s like a stealth ninja limit tester. He’s so good at it that I sometimes don’t see it til I’m already in mid conversation with him when I realise “hang on, what is this?…I don’t do this. Nice try Buster, End of discussion.”
I have to presume that we fostered this ability to negotiate in him. Being the eldest child he probably got away with this kind of negotiation much more than his siblings did. I can honestly say that I thought we were always clear and firm, but there it is. Our children are the result of our parenting, good or bad.
In a lot of ways we have learned what not to do in parenting thanks to our experience with our first born. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not some demon child that is a result of all our first time parenting experiments. But he was the subject of alot of learning on our part, and we pay for that now with his stealthy negotiation skills. 

I am sure he is going to be a lawyer or an AFP Negotiator of some kind.

Learning how to negotiate is an important problem solving skill in life. But don’t let your children confuse that with arguing, whining and wearing down people of authority.


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2 Responses to The Magic Number and Terrorist Negotiations

  1. At every point you make you set a standard for all to emulate. I cannot promote or praise you enough in your observations. I read each with more appreciation of your skills as a person and a parent. You are a star.

    G & I

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