Do you wish you could get your children to clean their rooms? Eat their broccoli? Do their homework? Call home if they’re going to be late?

I didn’t have to worry about these perennial parental dilemmas because I was never a parent. Still, negotiators have a thing or two to teach parents as I’ve learned teaching conflict resolution skills to high school teens and their teachers.

This Sunday, the New York Times in Train a Parent, Spare a Child, grapples with the parental urge to bribe and threaten their youngsters to achieve quick compliance with their demands even though all the experts warn that the long-term effects will produce either compliant children (sheep) or defiant ones (outlaws).

What’s a parent to do?

The experts have decent enough advice – make the requested behavior a game, switch from “if then” to “now that” rewards (don’t promise rewards in advance but give them after your child complies with your request), or simply praise them for doing the right thing (children want love more than money, really!)

Still, the author, a beleaguered dad whose daily child-negotiation obligations make my own life look like a walk in the park, says that all the good advice from experts in the world is not good enough to stop him, his wife, and their friends from resorting to bribery.

“So I got it,” he writes, “bribing is bad.

And yet I, my wife and nearly every other parent I know resorts to this tactic with appalling regularity. As one father said to me recently when we were discussing our approaches to parenthood: “My philosophy is simple: threats and bribes.”

Interest-Based Negotiation On the Playground

When my partner and I teach interest-based negotiation to mothers, there comes a moment when they say “oh my gosh! I can do this with my children!” And then they go on to do it.

Listen. It’s not rocket science.

My favorite teaching example arose in a classroom at my old high school, Helix Charter in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego and an institution of high repute.

We’d moved through all the contentious negotiation tactics to get others to do what you want them to do – ingratiation, gamesmanship, persuasive argumentation, threats, promises of future action (bribes) and, yes, physical violence (“wait until your father gets home”). Now we were moving into the most effective means of resolving a dispute –  the exploration of both parties’ needs, fears, desires, preferences, and, priorities.

The students in a Freshman English class were doing great – asking diagnostic questions of their bargaining partners (“what would you like to do; what do you need; who  would you like to participate or provide you with assistance; what are you afraid will happen; what would you rather do”); saying what they’d most like to accomplish, needed, feared and desired; and then working together to find a way to accomplish their mutual goals with the least degree to compulsion by way of bribes or threats.

The teacher, a tall, willowly blonde with an infectious laugh but a rock hard will, said “can I try it?”

“Sure!” I responded. “Choose a student you’re having a dispute with if the student is willing to participate.”

Getting A Student To Do Her Homework

In moments, we had the duo we needed. A teacher who wanted the student to get her homework done and a student who, despite repeated entreaties and promises, had yet to deliver homework that had been outstanding for two months.

“Start with diagnostic questions,” I counseled the teacher.

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by Victoria Pynchon

Victoria Pynchon is an attorney-mediator and arbitrator. She is also a principal in the She Negotiates Consulting and Training firm for which her blog “She Negotiates” is named. In addition to writing for the legal blog “On the Docket,” Pynchon also authored the book “A is for A**hole, the Grownups' ABCs of Conflict Resolution.