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Meet in the middle: teaching kids about compromise

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When a battle of wills ensues with your child, do you dig your heels in to win, capitulate for the sake of peace, or take a moment to consider whether the battle is an important one in the overall war?

Compromise is the ability to make concessions or adjust your position to reach an agreement. Some parents don’t compromise with their kids, ever. But kids become adults, and adults need to know how, and when, to compromise. Just think of all the things you do because you ‘should,’ or how hard you find it to say ‘no’ to someone else’s requests. Or think of the pushy people you dislike because they are unbending in their demands. That’s why teaching a healthy approach to compromise is essential.

At home, rules should be negotiable. After all, if your rules are fair, and you are fair, you won’t mind talking about them. The willingness to negotiate comes not from weakness, but from your being comfortable with your position. Remember, it’s the rule that is being negotiated, not your parental authority. Insecure parents shout, “Just do it because I say so!” A better response is always, “Convince me.” If a child can actually put together some good reasons why your rules could be revised, then why not agree and modify those rules.

This doesn’t mean that everything is up for negotiation. Being adaptable about bedtimes, screen time, homework schedules or having friends stay over is fine, but values and principles, like whether it’s OK to lie, steal or swear, should be sacrosanct.

In other words, kids need to learn that compromise does not mean surrendering something that’s important just to obtain peace. The way that you model compromise in your relationship with them will help them know the value of principles, as well as their own value as individuals.

Kids also learn how to negotiate and compromise by watching the way you interact with other people. They are much more likely to grow up treating others with respect if they see you doing so.

Instead of yelling and name calling and digging in your heels when fighting with your spouse, show your children that you can disagree respectfully, and can agree to differ if need be. This way, they will realise that an argument is in fact a debate.

Debate involves understanding all sides of an issue and responding to an opponent in a logical, non-emotional way. This takes self-control and, with practice, can help children learn to remove their emotional response to a conflict so it can be resolved in a calm and mature way.

If kids see you ‘arguing’ in a productive way, they will learn not only the art of negotiation but also the importance of empathy. When children understand how to view a situation from the other person’s position, compromise becomes much more likely. They will also begin to develop a ‘win-win’ attitude rather than a ‘lose-lose’ or ‘win-lose’ attitude. Thinking win-win means seeking solutions where everyone involved comes out happy. After all, compromise is impossible if we go in with a ‘take it or leave it’ mindset.

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