Making a Wise Appeal – Teaching Children to Respectfully Negotiate
We walk so many fine lines as parents! When it comes to allowing my kids to negotiate with me, there is more than one direction in which I could err. If it’s always “my way or the highway”, then my kids may never learn good decision making skills and they may resent me for not listening to them. If I take the “let’s be friends” approach and let them talk me out of everything I say, then they definitely will not respect me or obey me. It can be hard to find the middle ground on this, but I when I read about teaching children to make a wise appeal in the book Home Improvement by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, I thought they had some really good points.
First of all, my personal experience is that this is not for young children and it is not for children who do not obey consistently. The first time I tried it with my six-year old he was too young to keep it together if my response to his appeal was “no”. Now, as an eight-year old, he has the skills to remember the steps of the appeal, and can usually respond appropriately if he doesn’t get what he wants.
The first step of making a wise appeal is for the child to acknowledge what his or her parent wants. I carefully instructed my boys that they were not allowed to begin a wise appeal without stopping what they were doing and making eye contact with me. This posture indicates their willingness to obey if I do not change my mind based on their appeal. So, for example, I may say to my son, “Turn off the video game and come set the table.” If he wanted to make a wise appeal in response to this request he would pause the video game, put down the controller, and look at me. Then acknowledge what I want by saying something like, “I understand that you want me to turn off the video game and set the table”. I’m more likely to listen to him now because he has stopped what he was doing and he has demonstrated that he heard and understand my instructions.
The second step of making a wise appeal is for the child to explain why they would like to do something different. Since my child has put for the effort to acknowledge my instructions, I will now show him the curtesy of listening to his perspective. In this example my son might say, “I have a problem with turning the game off right now because I’ll lose all my progress on this level if I don’t reach the next check point.” So now, as a parent, I have an additional piece of information that can help me to make a good decision in this situation.
The last step in making a wise appeal is for the child to suggest a solution that will address both his or her own concern and the parent’s concern. In my example, my son could end his wise appeal with a statement like this. “I would like to try for five more minutes to get to the next check point. We could set a timer and if I still haven’t gotten to the checkpoint when the timer goes off, I”ll turn the game off anyway and set the table.”
As a parent, I’m going to respond to my son’s wise appeal in the way that it most appropriate for the situation. If dinner is going to be ready in 3 minutes then I might say, “Honey you spoke to me about that very politely, but I need the table set right now because dinner is going to be ready really soon.” A child who is mature enough to use the wise appeal should obey without complaining. Being allowed to make an appeal is a privilege, and it can be taken away! However, if dinner is still 20 minutes away I might respond, “Sure, that sounds fine. I’ll set the timer and if you get to the checkpoint before it goes off, you’ll turn the game off and set the table. If the timer goes off and you are still working on the game, you’ll turn the Wii off and try again another day.” It’s key for the child to remember that if their parent accepts their wise appeal, then the child must keep up his end of the bargain or risk losing the privilege of making an appeal.
Now, you might be thinking, “This sounds like a lot of work! Why would I bother going through this all?” I really feel that if a child is old enough to use it correctly, the wise appeal can result in more peace in the home. It also teaches a valuable skill that can be used, respectfully, in other settings. Imagine a coach telling his team they have to run laps around the soccer field because a practice didn’t go well. A child who has been taught how to make a wise appeal might say, “I understand that the team needs to run laps because practice didn’t go well. I have an issue with that because I promised my mom I’d be home to babysit my little brother and she is depending on me. Would it be all right if I came in early to run my laps tomorrow?” Certainly it’s a better response than getting mad or running off!
I’m interested to know, at what age do you think it’s reasonable to allow your children to negotiate with you?