Raising a toddler is a lot like being a lawyer. There's lots of arguing, you carry around a heavy bag stuffed to the brim with all your essentials, and if you don't watch your temper, you might get put in time-out to cool off. And like the opposing counsel on a case, toddlers can be shrewd negotiators when it comes to getting what they want. So to help parents figure out how to deal with these pint-size opponents when they argue with us, Romper turned to the experts.
We spoke to attorneys Jason C. Goddard, Freesia Singngam, and Meredith Olan from the Law Office of Jason C. Goddard, LLC in Hartford, CT to get some advice on how to win negotiations with your toddlers over everything from bedtime to sitting still in the shopping cart while at the store. While these attorneys usually deal with judges, co-counsel and prosecutors, they know that a two-year-old with a vendetta against carrots is just as worthy an adversary. Here's what they suggest for winning your case in the court of home.
Tip 1: Don't Worry About Taking Credit For Your Idea. Just Worry About The End Result.
If you want your toddler to wear the adorable new sweater you bought for family pictures, but they've been refusing to take off their ratty Daniel Tiger T-shirt, the trick to winning your case and nailing the family photo is letting them think your idea was their idea, says Olan. "I want the other person to believe that what I want was their idea all along," she says."I will give them the information I want them to hear and then ask them what they think."
For example, if your child loves the color red and there's red in the new sweater you want them to wear, you could point out how you know they're going to love wearing that new red sweater because it's their favorite color, and then ask what they want to wear. Oh, you want to wear the red sweater, sweetie? Works for me.
Tip 2: Don't Get Discouraged If Your Child Tries To Out-think You.
"If they come up with a solution that's not what you want, redirect them to the solution you want." says Olan. For instance, if your child is still hung up on that T-shirt, you can say something along the lines of, "I thought about letting you wear that shirt, but we have to dress nice for pictures, and this red sweater is nice, right?"
Olan says the success rate with this tactic is high. "Ultimately they'll often come to the conclusion I wanted them to in the first place and you can treat it like it was their idea all along," she says. And the best part is they'll be excited about it. "They associate you with this positive feeling when really, you got what you wanted," she says.
Tip 3: Don't Show All Your Cards At Once.
Whether you're negotiating how many stories to read before bedtime or how many peas they have to eat before they can be excused from the table, Goddard says the rules are the same as the rules for walking into a pre-trial meeting: don't bet against yourself by showing your hand up front.
"Don't start too low, because if you do, you're going to lose credibility. Then they'll think 'I'm not going to take my parent seriously because he's not taking the process seriously.'"
"Let them do the talking first to find out what they want," he suggests. "They're going to start higher so you can offer something lower to start." That said, he cautions, "Don't start too low, because if you do, you're going to lose credibility. Then they'll think 'I'm not going to take my parent seriously because he's not taking the process seriously.' "
So if, for example, your child asks you to read him nine bedtime stories, come back with a more reasonable offer, like two or three picture books. If you come in with a lowball offer, like, "One Family Circus comic and a round of Row, Row, Row Your Boat," well, you just brought that tantrum on yourself. "Find out what it is they're willing to offer," says attorney Goddard. "Once you know what their final offer is, then you know where to start."
Tip 4: If The Other Side Is Being Unreasonable, Look To Past Examples For Help.
Sometimes, even the best attorney has moments when you know that a negotiation just isn't going your way because the other side is being unreasonable or is in a particularly foul mood. When the same happens with your toddler (say, right around naptime), the best way to get them to see your point is to use the legal principal of stare decisis, or to look at how similar situations have been handled before, in order to decide what to do right now.
"If the other side is being unreasonable, I use a fairness argument," says Goddard. "I'll remind them of that we've done before in the past and make them articulate why they want something that far out of wack now."
This technique can easily work on toddlers, who generally respond well to routine and structure. If your little one is suddenly screaming for a cookie in the middle of the grocery store, try reminding them that you've never opened a package of cookies before you've paid for them before, and you're certainly not going to do it today, either.
Tip 5: Be Yourself.
You don't have to pretend to be sugary-sweet or act like a hardass to get your children to listen to you. In fact, our wise counsel told us that acting like someone you're not is a surefire way to lose your case. "It's important to be yourself, says Singngam. "If your kid thinks you're trying to be someone you're not, they're not going to take you seriously. As a child, if my own dad tried to play it tough one day it wouldn't have necessarily scared me, but it would have made me wonder why he was doing that. So when you approach your kid, it has to be you, because if it comes off inauthentically, it's not going to work."
Tip 6: Stay Calm.
Toddlers are smart. They can sense when parents don't know what they're doing. If you're in the middle of a power struggle with your kids, as tough as it might be, you'll get better results if you stay calm instead of losing your cool.
"The person that's in the most control of the situation has the quietest voice in the room," Olan reminds us. "When someone comes in blustery, yelling, and being very forceful with what they want, if you stay calm and quiet with them, it reinforces to them that that particular tactic doesn't work and they're going to take a step back because you're not reacting the way that they want you to."
So let your toddler be the one who throws the tantrums, not you.