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Deals and Timing for My Spirited Girl

Two things about my daughter that I always try to keep in mind when she's not doing what she's supposed to or I want her to do and/or I'm getting frustrated with her:
1. She takes in EVERYTHING, even if she doesn't respond right away.
2. She does NOT like to be backed into a metaphorical corner or feeling like she's being forced to do something.

Having read and really identified with the Raising Your Spirited Child book, I paid special attention to the section about negotiations or getting to "yes" (I can't recall right now if that term was in this book or another, but I do know that the idea of it was in this book). You see, with my child you cannot expect that she will do what you tell her to do just because you told her to do it. I don't care who you are or what method you try in order to force her to do it. If she doesn't want to do something, she will. not. do. it!

Instead, I've spent a lot of time coming up on ways to get my girl on board with what I need her to do, or at least to work out a compromise, or "deal" with her. I know lots of parents say they don't negotiate with terrorists, and certainly sometimes she simply HAS to do what we tell her to do, especially for safety reasons and when there are specific rules in place. But in general, I have learned to pick the true battles when necessary and otherwise work out something that will work for me and her. Maybe it's because as funny as it is, I don't consider her a terrorist. To me, she is a little person with needs and desires of her own, but without the ability to ask for them or to understand why she can't or to do so many of the things she wants.


I'll never forget that first time she looked at me and said, "Mommy, I want a deal." A few months ago when I was working on bedtime seperation (another post coming on that), making many small transitions over a period of time, I would tell her that we could "make a deal" to meet her needs (potty, drink of water, a little snuggle) without moving back to a previous position/action, thereby undoing the transition I had already made. Sometimes, she would take the deal right off, and others she would not take and therefore had a major tantrum/meltdown that I had to sit through without giving in to do only what she wanted. She HATED being backed into a "do this or else" corner, so those types of ultimatums would not work well during these transitions. But by offering her deals she could take was my way of giving her (and myself) a way out of being backed into a corner, a way for both of us to get to a "yes" that worked for us.

One night she really wanted something (maybe water or a snuggle, I don't recall exactly what), but I was insisting she had to stay in bed. Finally, she sat up, and said that she wanted a deal! I hadn't yet offered one cause I was tired and frustrated and didn't think of it. She was heading in the direction of a tantrum--but so was I! When suddenly, she sat up, looked at me, and told me she wanted a deal! Now, she's only starting to figure out how to offer her own deals, but at that point it was a huge break through for her to tell me she wanted one! I quickly came up with something acceptable to both parties, and we got through that bedtime without ANY tantrums!

She had been listening, taking it all in. What I was doing, what I was saying was not just something in the moment, but it was something she was learning and remembering and using. All those nights and days when I offered deals, all those times I had to make myself be patient and stop being frustrated and calmly offer compromises were starting to pay off.


She was in a mood one morning last week. Easily distracted and not listening or following any instructions. Not doing anything she KNOWS she's supposed to do in the mornings, and doing things she KNOWS she shouldn't be. After finally getting myself, the Pookie and the Pumpkin dressed and ready, we went downstairs for breakfast. While I was fixing oatmeal, she was sitting at the table and appeared to be playing with the basket in which I keep the napkins. But then I realized what exactly she had done/was doing.

She had broken a piece of the basket off and was playing with it. I said, pretty sternly, "Pumpkin! Don't pull pieces off of the basket! You are breaking Mommy's basket." She is currently really big into the idea of "broken" and knows that not everything that is broken can be fixed. I thought that would be sufficient... or maybe I knew it wouldn't be. Either way, I turned away to do the time-sensitive part of adding the oats to the boiling milk. When I looked back, she had broken off another piece! I was so mad! I yelled at her something along the lines of, "You broke off another piece! You are breaking my basket! I'm so mad that you didn't listen to me and are breaking my basket! You cannot play with that basket!" And I took the basket away.

She got upset. She hurried into the family room (open to the kitchen), sat down and started crying. Gah! What am I going to do with that? I'M the one who should be upset! I'M the one that should be comforted. But there was my girl, crying as if I was in the wrong.

I finished stirring the oatmeal, I gave the Pookie more puffs to hold him over, and then I went to my girl and sat down next to her. I was not in the wrong, and I was not going to make it seem like I was. But I always love her and care about her and her feelings, so I was going to address her feelings and mine.

"Pumpkin. Are you upset because I yelled at you?" She didn't answer, but I knew the answer. "You broke Mommy's basket. That made me very upset, because I really like that basket and because I had already told you not to break pieces off. You broke another piece off anyway, and that makes me sad and mad, so I yelled. I would feel a lot better if you said you were sorry." I said. But, and this is key for my daughter, I added, "When you are ready, I would like you to tell me you are sorry for breaking my basket." Then, I quickly moved on, "Are you hungry? The oatmeal is ready. Come on back into the kitchen when you are ready, and we'll have breakfast." I put in one final reminder as I got up, "And when you are ready, I'd like you to say you are sorry."

I went back in, spooned out bowls of oatmeal, sat down and started feeding myself and the Pookie. She was soon in the kitchen, eating her oatmeal, seemingly fine as could be. We were talking and joking around as if nothing happened. It's usually pretty easy for me to let things go and get things back to normal due to my personality or how I was raised or something, and the Pumpkin seems to be similar in this. After a few minutes, I saw her looking at the basket of napkins, which was on the counter now. Without any prompting beyond the times earlier that I mentioned wanting her to say she was sorry when she was ready, she looked at me and said, "Mommy, I'm sorry I broke your basket."

"Oh, thank you, Pumpkin! That makes me feel so much better to hear you say that!" Then we started talking about the basket a little bit, about how pretty it is and how perfect it is for the napkins. We both decided that we liked the basket and didn't want it to be broken. And that was that.


The Pumpkin may take her own sweet time in doing things, but I know that she is listening and taking it in. As far as I can tell, very few people like to be backed into a corner of do-it-or-else or even do-what-I-tell-you-because-I-told-you-to. And my intense, persistent, sensitive, perseptive child? She has a good heart and an incredible soul. She just needs the tools and the space and the time to figure things out. I can give her those.


Cloud said…
This is a nice post.

It is all about figuring out what sort of parenting your kid needs, isn't it?

My Pumpkin likes to negotiate, too. Sometimes, it is all that I can do to keep a straight face and hold to my rule in the face of my little negotiator, offering up some compromise or another that she's thought of.
mom2boy said…
This is a great post. I'm pretty sure it helped me last night when Tate got in trouble for stepping off the drive way. Rachel brought him inside and my first instinct was a big speech about safety and then I thought about do-overs, giving them the chance to do it right. I knew he knew he wasn't supposed to step off the drive way but he had his I'm super stubborn look on his face so we were headed for a show down if I tried to make it about wrong vs right. He wanted to be right. So I let him - by way of a do over and we went back out side and finished playing catch and completely avoided a melt down. I'm rambling in your comments, sorry!!
Anyway, I love it that you post at length about the work you are doing with your girl. It helps me do better with my spirited one. :)
geeks in rome said…
thank you THANK YOU for this amazing post! I love the way you totally put your finger on it: that even though they are not responding, they are absorbing how we handle the situation and will adopt our methods.

This is such a great reminder for me to try something new with Gus. I have gotten lazy and tired and things have not gone well the past week. I have been backing him into a corner and it is awful! I'll have to check out the book, too.

Thank you!!!
Melba said…
I don't know how you do it caramama. I'm so impressed by the apology over the basket... I really don't think I could have had that kind of success with Rosie... you've got a lot of patience and really seem to be in tune with how to get the best out of your Pumpkin. Good job. :)

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