Parenting: Perpetual Bargaining

July 10, 2011 By: erik Category: Musings, Offspring, Parenting, Politics 369 views

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Perpetual BarganingMy two year old now had the mental capacity to reason through simple causal statements like “Mommy is sleeping, because it’s night time, so we need to be quiet,” but the logical side of her brain isn’t yet powerful enough to override the emotional side enough to accept, “It’s night time, so you need to lie down in your crib, be quiet, and have the light off and no one else in the room with you.” She does, however, accept small bargains where good behavior results in her getting something that she wants. Lately I’ve been using this to my advantage.

In my daughter’s mind, the ideal bedtime scenario consists of her mother bending over the side of the crib to hold her hand all night long. When she doesn’t get this, she complains. Many nights my daughter and I have followed more or less this exact pattern of negotiations:

Nora: [cry] Daddy! Daddy! Give me your hand, Daddy! [cry]

Daddy: Nora, do you want me to sit down [in this comfortable chair near the crib]?

Nora: [cry] No! Give me your hand, Daddy! [cry]

Daddy: Okay, if you don’t want me to sit down, then I’m going to leave.

Nora: [wail] Your hand! Daddy!! [cry]

Daddy: Okay, I’m leaving. Let me know when you want me to sit down. [leaves the room]

Nora: [screams]

[30 seconds of suffered punishment]

Daddy: [opens door] Nora, would you like me to sit down?

Nora: [sob] Daddy, sit down! [sniffle]

Daddy: Okay, I’ll sit down, but only if you sit down [in your crib] too.

Nora: Daddy, sit down.

Daddy: If you won’t sit down, then I’m going to leave.

Nora: [sits down fast] Daddy, sit down.

Daddy: Okay. [sits down]

[30 seconds of enjoyed reward]

Daddy: Nora, you need to lie down.

Nora: No.

Daddy: [starts to get up] If you won’t lie down, I’m leaving.

Nora: Sit down! [lies down]

Daddy: [sits back in chair] Good girl.

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: What?

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: What?

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: What do you want?

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: [silence]

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: Nora, you need to be quiet, okay?

Nora: Daddy?

Daddy: If you won’t be quiet, I’m going to leave.

Nora: Sit down. [shuts up]

Once I can get her to lie down, be still and quiet, getting her to fall asleep is usually just a matter of 3-4 minutes of sitting in a comfortable chair in the dark. I could keep going, successively moving myself further out the door, but I don’t mind a nice contemplative sit at the end of the day.

Of course this isn’t a new and innovative parenting technique. Behavioral psychologists call it successive approximations, in rhetoric it’s called moving the goalposts, and when the mafia does it, it’s called extortion. It’s a common method used by the powerful to get the weak to do what they want them to do.

I’m sorry, but due to budget concerns, we’re going to have to cancel your pension program…although…the accountants say we could afford it if you could work on Saturdays.

Like all manipulation, it can be unethical, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether your raising rent, freeing hostages or haggling on cheap flights to Larnaca, it’s a good negotiation technique to have in your toolkit.

Politics in America

 
  • http://twitter.com/kalhendr Kaley

    This makes me think of the Freakonomics movie. He tries to give his daughter an incentive to use the toilet. He decides on M&Ms. It works for a while, but his 2 year-old daughter becomes so good at the whole process that she would go, wait 2 minutes, and go again! She was totally manipulative. Gotta love kids…

  • http://profiles.google.com/aquariumdrinker Lance McCord

    We were lucky with Sophia that from an early age we could get her to do something she didn’t want to by giving her a good reason why she should do it. I don’t think this is a testament to her reasoning, but more likely a willingness on her part to trade compliance for some combination of (a) education about what is going on around her, and (b) feeling like she has been let in on some esoteric knowledge about the situation (grownup gnosis). This value of this approach has actually declined in the past year (she’ll be 5 in December) as she has become more certain about what she wants out of a situation and more adept at evaluating the worth of the consideration she’s being offered. I guess there is also less that we can tell her that she doesn’t already know.

  • http://profiles.google.com/aquariumdrinker Lance McCord

    We were lucky with Sophia that from an early age we could get her to do something she didn’t want to by giving her a good reason why she should do it. I don’t think this is a testament to her reasoning, but more likely a willingness on her part to trade compliance for some combination of (a) education about what is going on around her, and (b) feeling like she has been let in on some esoteric knowledge about the situation (grownup gnosis). This value of this approach has actually declined in the past year (she’ll be 5 in December) as she has become more certain about what she wants out of a situation and more adept at evaluating the worth of the consideration she’s being offered. I guess there is also less that we can tell her that she doesn’t already know.