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Teach Your Children to Negotiate

My wife and I decided recently to abolish our children’s allowances. So far, we’re very happy with the results. I think the kids are as well.

Now, when I see a job that needs to be done, I’ll toss out the details and my children name their price. Sometimes we are right on target; often negotiations take place.

The first trick was to get my wife to be as strict as I was. She felt that if they did a portion of the job, they should get partial payment. My response “Did you negotiate that up front?” In the real world a half-job is worth nothing, unless both parties agree up front. Children aren’t stupid. If you create a loophole for them to do a small amount of work and get paid, they’ll exploit it.

One of the key lessons I am learning is how much I undervalue my own time. My kids pick up fast on what’s going to be a drudgery task or a time-consuming job. They will drive a hard bargain. In some cases I decide that the job is such a waste of time that no one should do it.

My daughter developed an interesting negotiating tactic. She’d often significantly up the bid on a job, then when I’d balk she’d counter for an increase of 25 cents. At first I thought, she doesn’t get negotiating. Then when I tallied up all the extra quarters at the end of the week, I thought,

No — Dad doesn’t get negotiating.

My daughter had also been pushing the envelope on some hard jobs for payment. In some cases I decided things just had to get done, so I agreed. I was surprised at some of the things she took on, because they seemed very physical. I discovered that she had hired her elder brother to do the heavy lifting portions. Subcontracting!

While in a tough negotiation for a job, her little brother chimed in with a lower bid. I said “deal.” She thought it was unfair, but I explained that in the real world someone may outbid you.

My son wasn’t happy at first. His allowance dropped and his sister’s went up. He’s young and doesn’t like jobs that take a long time. He found a niche: Nuisance jobs. For example, I have to do an evening feeding of chickens that are on the far side of the property. It’s a long walk at a time I’d really rather be doing something else. It’s not difficult, just time-consuming. He offered to take over that daily job for a weekly rate.

How do I set the value of a job? I came up with a rough calculation of $2 per hour. This $2 figure is known only to me. That’s the time it takes me to do the job, not them. If an offer undershoots the target or meets it, I agree immediately. If they overshoot, negotiations occur. If we are having a hard time reaching an agreement, I consider how much the job really needs to get done in the first place.

Here are the rules we established.

01 To get paid, jobs must get done completely to specifications. No partial pay for partial work, unless agreed upon first.

02 If I or my wife slip up on a specification (for example, we assumed something that wasn’t said), we bite the bullet. Get better at communicating.

03 Taking care of pets or cleaning up after themselves happen gratis. There still are house rules.

04 Routine household tasks are shared by the family gratis. General housekeeping, dishes etc. However there is an exception. If they take over the task completely and meet specifications, it’s a fair target as a job.

I know some parents won’t like the idea of negotiating with their children. I look at this way: Do I want them to bow to authority figures in the future, or do I want them to be able to stride up to them with confidence and negotiate for what they want? I am the ultimate authority figure in their lives at the moment. I think this sets the groundwork for the future.

The result: More work is getting done, and I and my wife aren’t doing it. These skills they are developing seem to be real world skills they’ll take with them to adulthood.


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