On a daily basis, your child will encounter situations in which her own wishes and needs clash with those of other people. Learning how to handle these situations is a critical life skill that children need to start practicing as soon as possible. Try and reinforce the following principles whenever you have the opportunity:
- Help your child understand that life isn't a competition. It's not just about getting what you want, but about finding solutions in which everybody gets some of what they want. If two people have both given a bit of ground but leave happy, that's a much bigger success than getting your way but leaving another person feeling squashed.
- Emphasize that, for negotiations to work, it is essential to maintain a respectful and considerate attitude toward the other person. If people feel attacked, they will be in no mood to compromise.
- Remind your child that one way to do this is to openly and directly acknowledge the other person's feelings, needs, and concerns: "It's horrible to feel left out… let's find a way to do it that's fair for everyone."
- Successful negotiation depends as much on listening as it does on talking. Encourage your child to ask questions that help him fully understand the other person's point of view.
- Stress the importance of keeping an open mind. Help your child to think flexibly and creatively in the search for solutions. Children can seem to be wearing blinders at times and assume that there is only one answer to a given problem. This is seldom the case.
- Reinforce the importance of keeping a cool head. If things are getting heated, teach your child that the best way forward could be to take a break for a few minutes and return to the negotiating table after everyone has calmed down.
You can lay the foundation of these skills with even very young children using games that teach the value of collaboration or compromise to achieve their goals. Comprehension and memory games in which competitors have to answer questions about narrated stories in return for candy or other token rewards can also train young infants to listen attentively. Simple piece-collecting games such as Go Fish or Beetle can be modified so that players can exchange missing pieces and have to bargain and compromise accordingly. Older children can learn much about negotiation principles from games such as Monopoly. The wheeling and dealing involved can nurture skilled negotiators, as well as provide useful lessons in how and why negotiations can so easily break down.