The Master Negotiator: My three year old

When my daughter was three she became a master negotiator.

I was back to work after maternity leave with my son, struggling to adjust to the new routine. I was exhausted and missed my kids. When it was “Mommy’s turn” to put my daughter to bed, I was hopeful to have quality time with my little girl, but I didn’t have the energy to parent after a long day.

It went like this:

“Okay Pumpkin, lets pick two books to read Tired Young Girl Wearing Pajamas at Bedtimetonight.”
“I want five books.”
“No Pumpkin, just two, Mommy is really tired.”
“Three books.”
“Okay three books, but short books.”
“No mommy! LONG books!”
And I would give in.

After we read the three books, she would begin:
“Mommy I’m thirsty, I need some water.”
“Okay stay in bed, I’ll go get you some water.”
“No I’m coming with you!”
And I would give in.

Back in bed:
“Mommy I want another book.”
Pumpkin…” in a warning voice.
“Just a short one. Please mommy,” with a few tears starting.
And I would give in.

If I was lucky, she would fall asleep while I read a book. Other times, once the story was finished and with her eyes barely open: “Mommy I’m hungry. I need a snack,” or anything else she could come up with. More often than not, it ended with me feeling frustrated and determined to be firm: “It’s way past your bed time. Go. To. Sleep.” She would then cry herself to sleep.

I felt terrible. I wanted her bedtime routine to be positive and in order to keep positive, I wound up giving in to try to prevent a tantrum. I was walking on eggshells and the situation wasn’t improving. In my defense, my daughter is extremely persistent – a temperamental trait I know will serve her well when she’s older, but can make for some challenging moments now!

Around that time I heard someone say, “We do not negotiate with toddlers,” in George W. Bush’s voice. I laughed! It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Together with my husband we made a plan. First we agreed on a set bedtime routine which included a small healthy snack, offering her a sip of water when she brushed her teeth, and a pre-determined number of books. We also chose a reasonable time for lights out, and shared these new expectations with our daughter.

mother and son head-to-head in conflictThe first few evenings were tough and filled with tantrums. But, toddlers and preschoolers are smart and quick to learn.

Now putting my daughter to bed often leaves me with a smile. Teaching our daughter bedtime routines and respecting her need to transition has helped. We realized she needed more time to wind down to be ready for sleep and now start her bedtime routine earlier. She helps decide which books to read and how many (within reason!). This way she gets to flex her negotiation skills and feel like she is part of the process. Once we agree on something, my daughter knows she has to hold up her end of our agreement. One of our family values is “we keep our word.” It’s not always perfect as she sometimes asks for more books, but I try to remain firm in my refusals to negotiate further.

The best part of her new routine is that we spend a few minutes chatting about what’s on her mind just before she falls asleep. It’s incredible what she shares when she goes to bed in a good mood!

Can you relate? Is your child a master negotiator? Share your stories with us:

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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you'll find me on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog, writing about all things parenting. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to write about! :)
This entry was posted in Parenting, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Play, Growth & Development, Toddlers & Preschoolers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Master Negotiator: My three year old

  1. I love this! I have a three-year-old and I can very much relate to having the same exact negotiations – how many books, the length of the books, who fetches the water, and on and on. I also try to let her flex her negotiation skills, within reason. It can be such a delicate balance though! (It doesn’t help that I am an attorney by training…chances are she inherited the feisty negotiation trait from me!)

  2. Pingback: “You hurt my feelings!!!” – Helping kids manage big emotions | HaltonParents

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