Imagine you are a car. The most amazing car you can fathom. If the car of your dreams has not yet been designed, imagine yourself as whatever that is. A fully loaded, luxury car with everything you could possibly need or want in it to get you to the destinations of your dreams.
As you get ready to embark upon this epic road trip in said car, you open the door and you find a little kid sitting in the front seat. Maybe even a toddler. You love the toddler. The toddler can be a ton of fun. The toddler provides joy and wonder and playfulness. You definitely want to bring the toddler along for the trip. What do you do? Do you toss the keys to this amazing vehicle at the toddler and say “ok let’s go!”. Not if you’re sane. Why? Well toddlers don’t know the first thing about driving. If they sit in the driver’s seat chances are they are going to just be happy to chill there in the garage. Messing around with the steering wheel, honking the horn, jumping on the seats, putting coins and cookies in all the vents. You aren’t getting anywhere with a toddler at the wheel. The car is just getting trashed. Eventually the toddler gets bored and wants out. The occasional toddler might actually try to start the car and clearly that ends super badly. So we can all agree that a toddler in the driver’s seat of your luxury car is not the way to go. So you put the toddler in their car-seat, strap them in nice and tight and off you go. That’s better.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Why do we let the toddler drive the bus when it comes to our life. Don’t think you do? Do you follow through consistently with the goals and intentions you set out for yourself or rely on moods or fleeting flashes of motivation? Are you putting off facing something unpleasant and difficult because you are scared and intimidated? Are you addressing any trauma from your past which is causing you to become triggered in ways you don’t understand? Are you staying in a toxic job or relationship because you are afraid of new things or to be alone? Almost all of us have some area of our life where the toddler is in the driver’s seat. And that’s keeping us from getting to where we want to be. So here are a few tips for negotiating with the toddler when it acts up so that you can drive that beautiful car to all those gorgeous destinations unfettered.
But first an amusing illustration on how to effectively negotiate with kids. I saw this on facebook the other day and it was so intensely relatable that I could not stop laughing.
Here’s how this was a successfully executed negotiation:
The mother of dragons clearly communicated reasonable expectations. She gets the people to buy into her narrative. They are all on the same team.
She provides short term and longer term incentives and rewards.
Parenting kids effectively requires some basic but consistent negotiation skills. Here’s how I deal with kids and with my own inner kid when it’s trying to get into the driver’s seat and derail me from my goals. I’m going to use the example of exercising.
I’m a really consistent exerciser. I need to be because regular exercise is critical for my mental health. People tell me that they wish they had my “motivation and energy”. What I tell them in return is that they certainly don’t want either one of those things. I almost never wake up with a sense of motivation and I don’t have a particularly high energy level either. I will concede that I have been extraordinarily lucky with good physical health and that’s no small thing, but as for motivation and energy, you don’t want to be coveting my share of them.
What I have honed over the years is the ability to negotiate with myself every day and get myself to exercise. Again, I use the same methods as I do to negotiate with a tough crowd of kids.
- I set out reasonable expectations ahead of time and I communicate them to myself very clearly. I’m pretty deliberate with regards to my fitness goals. I write down an amount of mileage I want to run each week at the beginning of the week and I keep track of it. I do this so that I can respect my energy levels over the course of the week. If I need to run less on one day because I’m very tired or feeling sore or an injury coming on tells me that I need to take a rest day will not mean that the week is shot. I’d caution against setting yourself up for a sense of failure by resolving to jog every day and feeling like you blew it if you miss the Monday. Same way you don’t want to give a kid a reward chart that only works if they get a star each day of the week. If they blow it on Monday they aren’t going to be the least bit invested in trying the rest of the week. Keep things bite-sized manageable and geared in every possible way to be successfully achieved. You want to set yourself up for success. Success breeds confidence which breeds more success.
- I approach the negotiation by showing high regard for the child. Nobody responds well to being told they are a lazy loser. Nobody responds well to being told to do things “because I said so”. When I’m negotiating exercise I talk to my inner child with respect and empathy. I remind myself that the way I’m feeling that day isn’t who I AM. I remind myself that I am an athlete, that I have done hard things. Just because I’m feeling sluggish that day doesn’t mean I am a slug.
- I offer immediate incentives for good behavior. If my inner toddler is balking about exercising I ask it to visualise how much better a shower feels after a good sweaty work out. I freshen up my playlist (I also only allow myself to listen to my fun active playlists when I’m running)
- I remind myself of longer-term goals in very visceral ways. “Summer is coming, don’t you want to feel confident and comfortable and just enjoy the nice weather? Let’s make sure thighs aren’t rubbing together that’s not a good feeling. I do not want that for you.”
- I work with the inner child until she is ready to Just Try One Bite. This is where it’s a strategic give and take. You know how you get a kid to try a new food? You don’t dish up a big bowl of it. You negotiate just one bite. This is no different. If I’m feeling super intimidated and defeated by the prospect of a longer run I amend the goal to a shorter run for that day. This is where the flexibility I talked about in step 1 comes into play. I tell myself that I can run 2 miles instead of 4 miles and make up the rest of the mileage later in the week. Like 80% of people who “just try one bite” I almost always end up eating more. Usually I end up running the originally intended mileage and often even more. So much of the battle is just getting started. I make it less intimidating to get started by trimming the goal to that one manageable bite. That said, I have to be honest enough with myself that I will feel content with achieving the smaller goal if that’s all I end up doing. This is really important because we become way more confident at negotiations and being in the driver’s seat if we experience positive outcomes. Each successful negotiation makes us feel that much more capable of getting the unruly toddler safely buckled into their 5 point harness in the back seat.
Here’s an important caveat which I didn’t have a chance to say in my podcast/youtube video:
It’s really horrific to take a sick kid on a road trip. It’s going to be a miserable experience for all involved if you do. You will have to stop constantly. There will be much whining. You may have to abandon plans. Do you see where I am going with this?
If you have unaddressed trauma and the inner child is damaged enough these negotiations will not be as nearly as successful, if at all. This is my daily plug for getting therapy. Complex PTSD will stand in the way of progress. That’s what it does. Trauma specialised therapy can and will help the inner child to heal and not have to cry constantly to be heard and taken care of. Then both of you can get along with the journey.
Much love! Til next time,
This topic is addressed on both my podcast (streams on 10 platforms) and if you are more a visual person for the first time ever you can watch the podcast on youtube! Please like and subscribe to my brand new channel (eeek so exciting) OneInchPastScary