Why you should stop using the word ‘if’, ask more ‘how’ questions, and more
Agreeing to disagree isn’t always an option.
Any parent knows that getting kids to pick up their toys, take a bath and finish their homework are tasks that often entail hefty negotiations. And when it comes to eating dinner, a recent survey conducted by Heinz revealed that 62% of parents say they actually negotiate with their kids to get them to eat. (Heinz says that ketchup helps the issue — and NPD Group found that kids across America eat ketchup more than 3 billion times a year — and is giving away free backup bottles of ketchup during the month of March for every bottle purchased.)
But ketchup doesn’t solve most child-rearing issues, which is why relying on experts like FBI negotiator Chris Voss can help parents navigate their toughest opponents. The former lead kidnapping negotiator for the FBI and author of “Never Split the Difference,” divulges how using certain language can be more effective when talking to kids.
“You want to wear them out the same way they wear you out, by asking open-ended questions,” says Voss. “’How’ questions are a great way to give the other side the illusion of control while you hold on to the upper hand. It also makes them think,” says Voss. “How am I supposed to let you stay up late and watch TV when I need you to get good grades in school?,” asks Voss. Another good technique is to use mirroring by repeating the last three words of what they say. “It keeps them talking and it wears them out,” he says. When dealing with toddlers, Voss suggests getting them off their feet and putting them on top of a counter or shelf where they’re safe but also feel a little uncomfortable and threatened.
Donna Holloran, a parent educator, child development specialist and owner of Babygroup in Santa Monica, Calif. tells Moneyish, “Drop the word if. That gives the power over to the child — instead use when.” While most parents might be inclined to say “If you keep splashing water out of the tub, you’re going to get out,” Holloran suggests saying something more effective like, “When you keep splashing water out of the tub, you’re telling me you want to get out.” “It seems subtle, yet the message to your child is more positive and less threatening when you use ‘when’ and you hold on to the power,” says Holloran.
Additionally, when you give big reactions, children learn to crave them, so rather than work on being responsive, Holloran recommends keeping your tone light and matter-of-fact when setting a limit, when trying to get them to do something and when needing to stop them from doing something annoying. Finally, using touch and staying calm can also help foster a positive outcome. “Touch your child’s shoulder when talking to them, put your hand on their pack, come down to their level and use eye-contact,” says Holloran.
Meanwhile, Heinz has employed retired NYPD crisis negotiator Jack Cambria to provide five tips for dealing with your kids like a pro. These include giving respect and seeking voluntary compliance. And if you’re still struggling, they’re operating a 24-hour hotline at 1-844-HEINZ-11.
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