When to Negotiate and when to Lay Down the Law

It’s fine to negotiate with kids, so long as you know when and how to do it.

I negotiated pretty much everything with my kids, ahead of time, rarely in the moment.  They were told that if something came up that they really wanted to do but it was interfering with the schedule, that’s fine, so long as they discuss it with me in a reasonable manner.

I’d even do their chores for them at times so long as they were nice about doing mine sometimes also.  Mutual respect … can’t go wrong once that’s in place.  Easy peasy.  

So if it’s so easy, then why do so many parents struggle?  Two main reasons:

1.  Inconsistency

I was talking to a client recently who didn’t understand my claim of being 100% consistent when I was willing to do my kids’ chores for them if they got a call from a friend to go and do something fun.  I said I was just doing them a favour, as I expected them to do for me from time to time.

They never asked without sweetening the deal with something like, “‘If you do the dishes for me tonite, I’ll wash your car on Saturday.”  If I’d said no, which I rarely did with a better offer like that, there was no argument, they just did the dishes.

The consistency was that it was still their chore, they could just negotiate out of it by offering to do something for me.  Those were odd exceptions, not the norm.

2.  Unreasonable Expectations

Before hiring me parents have often gone into overdrive trying to get control of the family.  They’ll set up elaborate charts full of rules and chores, punish often and go diving off the cliff of frustration.  Some will even tell me they’ve been following me for years and have tried everything I’ve suggested yet nothing has worked.

What they haven’t done is have reasonable expectations.  When they work with me we work on one thing at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t get your kids’ respect in a day.  You have to earn it over time.  The longer it took you to lose it, the longer it’s going to take to get it.

The biggest turnaround I ever experienced with a client was literally one day.  In order to respect their privacy I will change a few details but it’s a great story worth sharing.

The children were between 10 and 15 and not into anything terrible, just defiant and cheeky.  I told the parents to throw out everything they’d been doing and adopt my “3 Step Parenting Plan”.  We went through how to set it up keeping it very simple.

But here’s what they did that changed everything.  I have to mention they didn’t want to do it, they were horrified at my suggestion.  But I assured them it’s worked with tons of other families and that I couldn’t work with them further if they weren’t willing to do it.  I don’t recommend it for all families, but they were the perfect fit as had extremely demanding and unreasonable expectations of their children throughout the years.  The list of chores and rules were ridiculous.  They were lucky their kids hadn’t run away from home.

So, here’s the speech I gave them to say to their kids:

“We’re sorry we’ve been lousy parents.  We don’t blame you for not respecting us.  We love you more than anything in the world but that doesn’t mean we’ve treated you well.  From now on we’re going to work to be the parents you deserve.”  

They said their kids just sat there staring at them in disbelief and one even ran over crying and hugged them.  It was a huge shift for the family and all we did in the next sessions was work on how to follow through on their promises.

Now I didn’t think they were lousy parents at all, it was just said to shake things up.  Kids usually defend their parents and say they’re not lousy.  It’s a great tool to break down walls and defensiveness.  It also brings out compassion in the kids.

As difficult as it is for some parents to do, not one of them has told me it was a mistake.  They say it’s very emotional and difficult for them but also shows them and their children that it’s okay to be humble and vulnerable.  We’re all human, we all make mistakes.

So, when do you Lay Down the Law?


You can’t lay down the law if you don’t have respect.  That’s what the above was all about.  So, assuming you have at least some level of your children’s respect, you lay down the law in the moment as necessary.

The bottom line is that you are the adult, you’re in charge of their welfare, etc. and if you say something, it’s law.

The only thing I can remember my kids doing that annoyed me was arguing over Lego or some treat.  They were pretty quiet arguers as knew if I heard I’d take away whatever they were arguing over.

One day I heard them arguing over the last piece of cake, one said it hadn’t been cut fairly.  I calmly walked into the kitchen and they handed me the cake to eat right in front of them … they knew.  After I ate the cake I taught them how to handle it next time:  one cuts, the other chooses.  But in the moment, I laid down the law.

There is no negotiating in the moment, just laying down the law.  That was the first and last time they ever argued over a piece of cake, lol.

More on this:  “How do I stop my kids from fighting with each other?” 

Arguing was the crime, losing the cake was the punishment.  If I’d let them have the cake that day, they’d have learned that it’s okay to argue.  NEVER REWARD BAD BEHAVIOUR.  

If you want help learning how to navigate through all this negotiating, laying down the the law, etc. check out my coaching page.  There are unlimited emails flying back and forth between weekly sessions so I’m with you through it all.

Warmly, Lisa