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Negotiation Strategies For Kids

A sanity kit for the teachers of Negotiators 

Motto: "There's always another audience!"  

  • are as sharp as a tack,
  • are wheeler-dealers who can run rings around you if you are not careful,
  • always have another option - if you've got two options, they'll have three, 
  • are cunning, conning, and funny, 
  • control by resisting direction and requests, 
  • engage other people by being jokesters (and they are generally good at it), and 
  • don't know when to stop. 
One great example is Bart Simpson.
Negotiation Strategies For Kids

Helping Negotiators to change 

Over the years, teachers have come to me at their wits' end, saying something like, "I never want to teach that child ever again" or "Hang that child by his toenails from the rafters." This tells me they have a master Negotiator in their class.
We all run the risk of becoming our own worst enemy with the Negotiators of this world. The reason is, they are funny. Really funny. So we laugh along with them. By enjoying a joke with them, we are led into mistakenly believing we have some goodwill with that child. Then, out of the blue, that same child turns around and does something incredibly annoying and irritating. We can feel this as a personal betrayal.

In a friendship, feeling betrayed might be an appropriate response. In a classroom setting, you need to realize that it is not personal. All the Negotiators are doing is playing to a larger audience.
Negotiators can be engaging, sharp-witted, knowledgeable students with the comedic skills of Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, you also have someone who could drive you mad. There has been a long history of these type of kids in children's literature: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Dennis the Menace, and, of course, Bart Simpson. Don't be fooled by the fact that all these potential candidates for serious medication were boys - Negotiators can be girls as well.

Five strategies
The first thing you need to do when teaching Negotiators is to have a strategy for reminding the audience. If you have no such strategy, you have no strategy at all. Possible methods include sending the child to an understanding colleague's classroom, to "Admin," or even the whole class leaving the room.

Second, decide on one or two key bottom lines that you can hold steadfastly with this student for a minimum of six weeks. Be clear about the behavior that you want to see more of, and don't try, to achieve too much. Let me repeat that: don't try to achieve too much. Teachers typically overestimate the amount of
change that can occur and underestimate the time it will take. As a rule of thumb, if you are changing one of the Negotiator's negative behaviors every six weeks, you are doing so well you deserve a medal of honor. Two behaviors every six weeks is the absolute maximum. Get the support of other teachers to help you with this.
Third, tell the student: "This is what I want you to do." Inform him that there will be consequences if he does not do this. Don't expect Negotiators to believe you. They have had years of outsmarting adults, so one clear message isn't going to faze them. They will be convinced only by actions, not words.

Fourth, there is no point arguing with Negotiators. All that happens is that they get an adrenaline rush and an entertained audience. When they are behaving in ways that are counter to your one or two bottom lines, approach them as quietly and calmly as possible. Whisper to them, "You are breaking our agreement. You can either stop that now or face the consequences - you have a choice."

Withdraw for about a minute. If the misbehavior continues, implement your audience-removal strategy. The consequences for the misbehavior can be put into place later, at a time that is more convenient to you. One useful consequence is to require students to come into school early, to help you prepare for the day. They can be allocated tasks such as photocopying and cleaning. This also helps them to learn responsibility.

Fifth, during the six weeks, try to find other ways for Negotiators to gain peer approval by mixing them with students they don't normally associate with or by giving them positions of responsibility or even privilege.

An additional note: these kids eat substitute teachers for breakfast! Be kind to your substitute teachers by creating a file on your strategy, so if you are away they can at least have some chance of success. To find out more, you can check out Negotiation Strategies For Kids.