Why I Let My Daughter Negotiate

“Convince me.” These are two words you might hear on any given day in my household. The person saying them will be me – and I’m saying them to my four-year-old daughter.

letting kids negotiateDid anyone ever teach you to negotiate? Because no one ever taught me, which has a lot to do with the fact that my salary at my first full-time job (one that required some nights and weekend work) was well under $20k and that was in the early 2000s and I was living in NYC. I didn’t negotiate raises. Heck, I didn’t even ask for raises. It pretty much took until I was in a place where I didn’t care anymore about getting fired or what my employer thought about me to ask for and negotiate a raise for the first time. I got the raise and then a higher raise than first offered.

All because I asked and then asked again while making a compelling argument as to why I deserved it.

Yay, right? Except boo that it took me like over two decades to accept that I could just ask and to have the courage to do it.

What does that have to do with letting my daughter negotiate? Well, kids ask for so much. Another cookie. 15 more minutes of TV. Later bedtimes. Another story. More juice. A new toy. Most of what they ask for is so simple but the requests come so frequently, so it can be incredibly easy to say no. Sometimes there is a good reason for saying no, like if a new toy is not part of the week’s budget or your little one has had three glasses of juice in 10 minutes and bedtime is in half an hour. But sometimes the no just comes out because you’ve been bombarded by requests all day and you’re kind of sick of it. Or the request comes in the form of “CANIHAVEANOTHERCOOKIEPLEASEPLEASEPLEEEEESE?!”

And of course kids ask again even after no. We all know that. There are probably thousands of articles telling parents to stand firm. To never take back a no. To never, ever negotiate with a child.

Except if I never ever let my child negotiate – if I never give her space to make a compelling argument in favor of yes, even when it’s just a cookie on the line – how exactly is she going to know how to do it when she’s looking for summer jobs in high school or applying for her first job out of college? I want her to believe that she deserves to ask and to make her case when a yes isn’t forthcoming, and here’s why I think it’s so very important for my daughter.

According to the official website of the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever:

  • Two and a half times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
  • Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women.
  • 20% of adult women say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.
  • In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000.
  • In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries.
  • Another study calculated that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t.

Negotiating for the cookie may not look like negotiating for another $10k but I believe that by giving her room to try to get what she wants I can give her the confidence and the skills to get what she wants later in life.

Does all this mean I never say no, end of story, you asked and I answered? Of course not. There are plenty of instances in which there is no room for negotiation and I make that abundantly clear. But there are also specific moments – teachable moments – where instead of saying no outright when P. says “Can I…” or “Just one more…” I respond with “Why do you want to do that?” or “Convince me it’s a good idea.” Hopefully the mental gymnastics she sometimes goes through to get what she wants will serve her well for the rest of her life.

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