Your toddler is always one-step ahead. Every problem that pops up, sleeping, moving, eating (or not eating), you’ll finally get to grips with it just as they move onto the next thing that knocks you for six. Like a bug that keeps on mutating each time your immune system gets use to it.
But this step forward’s different. Finally Little Bear’s moving onto familiar ground. He’s honing his ‘People Influencing’ skills, and starting to negotiate. The toddler’s outmanoeuvring of our ability to parent is no longer an unconscious leap of his developing body, it’s now moving into conscious thinking of how he can outsmart his carers. Working in negotiation for the last 10 years, this latest shift is making me proud (especially when he outsmarts me). He’s gone all these little ‘needs’ inside him, and now he can start thinking about smarter ways of getting them.
Finding the reasonable parent
The basic tactic and the first one toddlers tend to pick up is one we’re all very familiar with. They’re told they can’t have something they want and they just respond in denial: ‘No’. Little Bear then tells his cruel denying parent: ‘Bye-bye Pappa, Bye-bye’. In our house this is tantamount to being told to piss off. He toddles off to the other parent and askes for the same thing again. Maybe the other parent will be me reasonable.
My favourite is that he now understands the ‘First, Then’ formula. In negotiations we call this ‘conditionality’. You make giving ground conditional on getting something back.
Pappa: ‘You need to have a nap now’
Little Bear: ‘No sleep. Underground train‘
Pappa: ‘First sleep, then we can go on the train’
Little Bear: [thinking face]… ‘Yup, first sleep, then underground train’
Pappa: [He’ll never remember the train when he wakes up, I’m safe from the pointless travelling I’ve just committed myself to]
… 30 minutes later Little Bear springs awake: ‘Underground train!’
Pappa: ‘He remembered! Sh*t! I mean... sugar. Don’t repeat that’
This has become more and more elaborate as I try and add the plans I had for the day into the bargain in the hope that he’ll forget his most inconvenient demand by the time we get there: ‘First sleep, then pushchair, then library songs, then lunch, then bus, then meet Josh’. Except with a memory way sharper than mine, he then turns into the day’s agenda, announcing the next activity each time we finish one. ‘So let’s take the train to see Josh’; ‘No Pappa! First Bus, then Josh’. [I told you that 3 hours ago! Stop remembering!]
Bargaining down to the sweet spot
As with all toddlers, Little Bear has his weird inexplicable obsessions. Few things make him happier than washing his hands and ‘doing’ the washing-up (for, hours). More than a little OCD.
Little Bear: ‘Hands are dirty. Wash them?’
Pappa: ‘No, they’re clean, and you washed them 5 minutes ago’
Little Bear: ‘Pees? Wash hands? Pees Pappa?’
Pappa: ‘… Ok, but only very quickly’
Little Bear: [this is the best I’m gonna get with this stingy grump of a parent] ‘Yup, ok, quick wash’
Downplaying what he’s winning
When denied something he has an overwhelming need for, the toddler can either revert to the tantrum, find a more pliant adult, negotiate or just try and convince the parent that the concession he’s asking for isn’t that big after all. The last has become popular with technology.
Little Bear: ‘Loo Toob?’
Pappa: ‘No more You Tube because you just follow the ads and end up charging me for a lifetime supply of cat food’
Little Bear: ‘… Netfix… Peppa Pig?’
Pappa: ‘No, you’re only allowed Peppa Pig when you have a nappy change’
Little Bear: ‘… Maybe… I’ve done a poo’
Pappa: ‘You haven’t. Still no Peppa Pig’
Little Bear: ‘Pictures?’ [the little narcissist likes to watch pictures of himself on my phone]
Pappa: ‘… ok, here you go’
Little Bear takes the phone with the photo app open: ‘Bye-bye Pappa!’
He then hides behind a cushion on the sofa. There’s a few moments of silence…
Then Peppa Pig’s theme tune starts coming from the little den he’s made… When did he get better at navigating technology than his grandparents?
Knowing his leverage
Then finally there’s the toddler that knows their leverage over the parents and uses it to extract concessions. If a toddler feels like they know something matters to the adults, why wouldn’t he use it to his advantage?
Little Bear sits down in his high-chair to eat, but decides he only likes pasta which he’s already finished.
Little Bear: ‘No likey my food. Maybe I can eat, Pappa’s food?’
Pappa: ‘It’s the same as yours. Eat your own’
Little Bear: [the thinking look] ‘No… Little Bear’s food is… all gone’
Pappa: ‘It’s not, the vegetables and chicken are still there in front of you. Please eat something other than bread potato or pasta, you have the nutritional intake of a hamster on a carb-only diet’
Little Bear lifts up his plate and dangles it over the edge of the table while looking us in the eye: ‘All, Gone’
Pappa: ‘Ok! Put the plate back, and you can have some of Pappa’s peas’
He then shuffles over to sit on my knee, promptly plunging his little hands into the pile of pasta on my plate… I’m just grateful at this point for his OCD hand washing fixation.
What does all this mean for how I’m bringing him up? I’ve heard people say we’re too easy with him, even that we spoil him because he decides too much about what we do. But I couldn’t give a sh*t what they say. He’s learning how to negotiate life like a pro and doing his Pappa proud.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots