We Do Not Negotiate with Toddlers

We Do Not Negotiate with Toddlers

We do not negotiate with toddlers.

I wish this were true.  But we do negotiate with toddlers.  At least I do.  All day…  Every day…  Go ahead and file this under, “Things I thought I’d never do as a parent.”


Wouldn’t it be great to take a hard-line with these obstinate little ones?

“Eat your vegetables because I said so.”

“Put on your pants because it’s cold outside.”

“Go to sleep because you need sleep to live.”

Done and done.  If only it were that easy.  If only the toddlers would respond to logic and reason.

But no.  Toddlers don’t respond to logic and reason because they’re not logical or reasonable.  They’re two; they respond to cookies and toys.  Either that or they’re manipulative little geniuses who know how to get exactly what they want  Maybe it’s both.  So instead we parents (or just me?) endlessly cajole, bargain, and outright bribe.  I didn’t notice my shameful behavior at first.  Then one day I realized almost every conversation with my 2-year-old involved some sort of “If…Then” statement.

“Eat your vegetables,” became, “If you eat your vegetables, you can have more pasta.”

“Put on your pants,” became, “If you don’t put on your pants, then we can’t go outside,” which became, “If you put on your pants, we can watch Elmo when we come back inside.”  When even Elmo didn’t work, it became, “Here’s my iPhone.  Look at pictures while I put on your pants.”  (For some reason, Elisabeth was vehemently anti-pants for a while.)

Pants-less and Proud

Pants-less and Proud

When did every interaction with my child become a negotiation?  When will it stop!?

I thought I’d be tougher.  I thought I would weather any tantrum and firmly hold my ground.  Eventually my toddler would listen to me and respect me, simply because I know what’s best.

But holy cow – have you ever spent 30 FREAKING MINUTES trying to clothe a screaming, flailing child?  Or 30 minutes doing ANYTHING that should take 2 minutes, but for the innate need of these little people to assert total domination over you?  (I suppose it’s more PC to say they’re at the age where they’re affirming their independence, testing their boundaries, blah, blah, blah… But I’m pretty sure they’re out for blood.  Or at least tears – your tears.)

These toddlers, man… They break you.  You become powerless to them.  Negotiating with them to accomplish the most basic of tasks may be unpalatable but it becomes a matter of SURVIVAL.  (Both the child’s and the mother’s.)  What if you’re convinced that your toddler is going to contract pneumonia because he refuses to dress properly outdoors?  Or what if you’re afraid your kid is content to stay in diapers forever, and she’ll never be allowed into preschool?  What if your child hasn’t touched fruit in a week and you’re worried he’ll get scurvy?  Or he hasn’t eaten anything at all for that matter and he’s surely going to die.  Clearly, catastrophic things will happen if you’re not willing to negotiate every now and then.

Or let’s say you’re holding a meeting at your house and your toddler disrupts the whole thing with an epic tantrum over nothing?  Or you have to host a dinner party and instead of letting you cook, your child keeps messing with the hot oven.  No dinner for anyone – it’s a safety issue.  Or what about when you have a doctor’s appointment five minutes ago but your kid will not get in the car and the doctor will cancel your appointment and it’ll weeks before you’ll be rescheduled?  Like I said, catastrophic.

Negotiate with that toddler.  Get things done.  It’s probably breaking every parenting rule out there – but sometimes it’s the only way.


1 Comment

  1. Yep. Negotiate. You’re supposed to. Both of you are learning each other’s fence lines… only without adult language. Elisabeth is testing her limits ’cause she explicitly trusts you’ll catch her. You should celebrate that. It doesn’t matter what “it” is; with each leap, touch, taste and seemingly bizarre behavior, she learns what her body, her hands, and her mind can do. That also is something to celebrate. Great post. Reminds me of my life with my kids who are now adults.

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