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When To Negotiate

Whenever Ann Sackrider took her 4-year-old son, Hudson, to rent a video, he'd start to bargain with her. "He'd say he wanted five videos, and I'd tell him we were choosing just one," says Sackrider, of Brooklyn. "Then he'd say, 'How about one short one and three long ones?' He seemed to think everything was negotiable."

Haggling over such things as video rentals, snacks, and bedtime may seem like an act of willfulness on the part of a preschooler, but it's actually one way that kids establish their independence and ultimately learn to respect limits, says Alan B. Siskind, Ph.D., a clinical social worker in New York City. By testing the boundaries you give them, kids discover that they have some input in minor decisionmaking  -- what to have for lunch, for instance  -- but not in bigger issues, such as those that affect their safety.


"Some parents automatically say no to everything," says Siskind. "When their child tries to express herself, the parents interpret it as rebelliousness." By at least considering her suggestions, you'll help show your child respectful patterns of communication that will pay off down the road. You'll also let her know that her ideas and opinions do count.


Decide what's flexible, then let your child have a say on those issues. Explain why you're willing to strike a bargain about some things (choosing which dress she'll wear to a birthday party) and not others (going outside without a coat). You might also determine which chores she's responsible for, but let her pick which ones to tackle first. Sackrider and her son now compromise on videos: They rent one long one and one short one.


If you agree to a compromise, stick to your side of the bargain. And don't waiver on the issues you've decided aren't up for debate, such as crossing the street without you or watching a certain TV program. Your child will feel more secure knowing that some things aren't negotiable, and she'll eventually learn that pleading won't do any good.