18 August 2014, by Dannie Cho

The Negotiator And The Toddler

Samuel L Jackson. The guy who acted as Nick Fury in a whole bunch of Marvel movies. As Mace Windu in Star Wars. Who voiced Frozone in The Incredibles.

But you know when this dude first caught my attention? For most people, it would be probably when he was in the movie Pulp Fiction. Not me, since I never watched that show. Mr Jackson caught my attention with a stellar performance in the movie “The Negotiator”.

The Negotiator – Never Say No!  (Warning: Don’t watch the clip if coarse language causes your brain to melt)

So, when the company deemed it necessary to send me off to Kuala Lumpur with a bunch of other colleagues to attend a negotiation workshop last month, I naturally had visions of myself learning how to be a kick-ass kind of negotiator.  But of course, reality is always different from such fanciful daydreams huh? But there we were, all seated in a horseshoe formation, and the workshop opened with introductions (as usual) and a statement on who did we want to negotiate better with. And 8 out of 12 participants, including myself, said that we wanted to negotiate better with our kids. How about that? Maybe this course should have been funded by my kids’ CDA account or something!

Suffice to say, the workshop was truly enjoyable, and in addition to some tips and tricks that I could use with my company’s suppliers, I also managed to work how some of the negotiation strategies could work with Coco (and eventually, Claire). Here are some tips that have actually worked for me:

1) Understand your position

To be able to negotiate, you need to first understand your own position. What are the behaviours that you wish to enforce? What are you willing to give to get those behaviours? And how are you willing to punish, if your expectations are not met? Generally speaking, the rewards and punishments can sometimes be direct opposites. Here are some of the internal ‘rules’ I worked out. You should be able to work out your own.

a) Spitting at others/ Playing with saliva –  Absolutely prohibited. It’s a 3-stroke caning offence

b) Finishing her meals – Highly encouraged – 2 small pieces of candy

c) Taking her bath when asked to – Encouraged – Extra 5 minutes on the iPad before bedtime, or a bedtime story. Conversely, if she dallies, then no iPad, no bedtime stories.


2) Never say no

Because someone will get shot!

Just kidding. Actually, saying no makes you seem unreasonable. This builds on how well you understand your position. You can avoid saying ‘no’ simply by…


3) Putting a condition before a concession

I personally recommend using a standard phrase, so that your child learns to associate that there is a condition before the concession. “If you…, then I…” works pretty well here. And to avoid saying no, you just need to put a condition that your child most probably would not go for.

a) If you finish your bowl of noodles, then I will give you 2 pieces of candy.

b) If you try a piece of crab (knowing that she’s ickified by the very thought), then I will buy you the toy.

c) If you take a nap this afternoon, then we will bring you to the playground this evening.


4) Never give freebies

Yes, I know we all love our children very much, and sometimes, we can’t help but to pamper them. Well, go ahead and pamper them! But link it to something positive that they did, so that you can reinforce good behaviour. Warning – don’t do this too often or automatically, or it eventually becomes an expectation!

a) I bought you this book because you were very patient, and did not interrupt when daddy and mummy were talking to our friends.

b) Here are some new stickers for you! Because you were a good girl and packed up your toys.


5) Avoid bargaining

Bargaining is one of those slippery slopes when it comes to negotiation.

“If you finish your bowl of noodles, then I will give you 2 pieces of candy.”

“I want 3.”

Now, if you accede and agree to 3 pieces, then your child would have managed to bargain with you and got a better deal. I promise you that 3 will eventually become the new expectation, and then the bargaining will then be for 4 pieces. What you need to do in this situation is to tie the extra piece of candy to another condition.

“3 pieces? Well, if you can finish your bowl of noodles without dropping any food on the floor, then I will give you 3 pieces.”

See what I did there?

And you know what? If your child does manage to not drop any food on the floor, then that can be your new expectation, because you now know that it’s possible!


True Story

So here’s something that happened between Coco and me last weekend that got me pretty pleased on how things are working out so far.

We went to Brussel Sprouts to meet a couple of Yi Lin’s ex-classmates for lunch. Coco, unfortunately, is one of those kids that needs a lot of cajoling to eat or drink.

“I want to come down.” (from her high chair)

“Okay, if you drink 5 sips of water, then I will bring you down, and you can play at that little play corner.”

She drinks her 5 sips, and I keep my promise.

She comes back after awhile, obviously bored with the little play corner already. I decide to make her another offer.

“Coco, if you eat something, then I will go outside with you. They have a little playground outside, with see-saws and slides. Would you like that?”

She agrees. Unfortunately, my offer had a little loophole. She chose to eat a little box of Sun Maid raisins. But hey, a promise is a promise. I bring her out after she finishes her raisins.

She plays a little on the see-saw, then looks around.

“Daddy, I want to go to the playground with the fire truck.”

Oho! We were at East Coast, but she must have thought that we were at Pasir Ris! There was suddenly a chance to redeem my earlier offer with the loophole.

“The playground with the fire truck? Oh, I know which one that is! But that’s farther away. If you eat some rice or pasta, then I will bring you there.”

She chooses pasta. Unfortunately, we were already settling our bill, so the deal became “Go home, eat pasta, then go to the fire truck playground”.

When we got home, she decided not to eat the pasta after all. She would have milk instead. But interestingly enough, once she decided not to eat her pasta, she also did not press the issue on going to the playground at Pasir Ris. At dinner time, Coco stunned me by asking, “If I eat my pasta, can I go to the fire truck playground?”

“Yes, Coco. If you eat your pasta, we will bring you to the fire truck playground tomorrow.”


And that, my friends, is the very essence of negotiation. Coco and I found a way to get what we both wanted, by exchanging items/actions of value to each other. And better still, the dad who would previously have just said ,”No” or “Eat your food!” and expected to be obeyed is gone; replaced by someone who is a lot more reasonable in his approach!

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Posted on : August 18, 2014

Filed under : New Mums & Dads

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