Language Therapy for Negotiation

Children need to practice the basic skills of negotiation with one peer or a sibling.

Here Mark and his brother are practicing how to share the iPad app, Flick Soccer.

They both want to play and there’s only one iPad. I use a method is based on Roger Fisher and William Ury’s best-selling book, “Getting to Yes.” Children can model adult negotiation skills. Here are the main ideas:

  1. Don’t Bargain Over Position: Steer your child away from bargaining over how to be the “best” or the “fastest” or the “first in line.” Parents need to help a child let go of the need to be competitive, and to blame others when she doesn’t win.
  2. Separate the problem from the emotions aroused by the dispute, and from the people involved in it.   Negotiations involve two people who have different backgrounds, values and viewpoints. Help your child see these differences in your own daily interactions. That way, your child can explain how he solves problems at home the next time he and a peer disagree.
  3. Create Options for Mutual Gain: There is no single answer for any problem. Brainstorm options so each child can “own” a part of the compromise.
  4. Use Objective Criteria:  Children are sensitive to fairness. They need to agree on what is fair while they negotiate. Make a list of ideas. No threats or refusing to budge. One rule: no kicking, biting or name-calling.

References: Ann Densmore, Ed.D. and Margaret Bauman, M.D., Your Successful Preschooler, Chapter Seven: Encouraging Flexibility and the Art of Compromise, (Harvard Medical School and Jossey Bass, 2011), p. 145-156.

Fisher, R., and Ury, W. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Conversation with Bruce Patton, cofounder and distinguished fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project, 2011, author of Difficult Conversations, New York: Penguin Books, 1999.