Savvy strategies for establishing rules your child can live by.
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When kids whine or disagree, many parents make the mistake of either laying down the law too quickly or giving in too easily, says Scott Brown, a founding member of the Harvard Negotiation Project and the Hanover, NH-based author of How to Negotiate With Kids... Even When You Think You Shouldn't. "Negotiating will save you time in the long run by establishing rules kids are more likely to follow," says Brown, who offers these strategies:

  • Attack the problem, not your child. Comments like "You have too many toys already" come across as a personal attack and invite an emotional reaction. Focus on the broader issue: "We've already spent a lot of money on toys. Let's make a list of all the things we have to buy and talk about which ones are important."
  • Create genuine options. Sometimes parents offer choices that are really veiled threats ("Either eat your veggies or go to your room"). Try to come up with ways to meet your child's interests without sacrificing your own. You may find that your child is only opposed to eating cooked vegetables and she'll happily eat them raw.
  • Decide as a team. Let your child brainstorm options with you, and whenever possible, evaluate the choices together.
  • Make rules. The more you involve your child, the more likely he is to abide by your agreement ("Now that you're older, we'd like your input on the chores you might take on").

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the March 2003 issue of Child magazine.