Parental Negotiation 101: Getting Your Toddler to Do Your Bidding

My husband and I have recently started to watch CBS’s new drama series, Ransom. The story revolves around a professional crisis and hostage negotiator and his team negotiating their way out of potentially catastrophic situations with the aim of saving lives. This post about negotiation tactics may not give you the tools to save lives, but I hope it’ll help preserve your sanity.

We always knew that Baby A was an opinionated little baby, but now that she can effectively communicate using sentences, she is finally able to share her opinions. I’m a huge proponent of ‘little girls are to be seen and heard’, but I’m also a parent, so I do need to get my way at times (mostly to keep the little one safe, fed, clean and entertained, because despite what she may tell you, ‘let me change your poopy diaper’ benefits her more than me). Short of physically forcing Baby A to do my bidding, I am left with only one option – negotiate with a toddler who does not understand the concept of the long-term. Over the last few months, my husband and I have perfected a range of negotiation techniques, some of may be considered morally ambiguous, but effective nonetheless. Here, I share our wisdom with you:


The Reversal 

This is my husband’s favourite and works like a charm, most times. You basically tell your toddler to do the opposite of what you want done, and the rebel within will comply. For example, if we want Baby A to stand up, we’ll say ‘please keep lying down’, and zap, she’s up in an instant. If we want her to walk with us, we’ll tell her to walk in the opposite direction, and she’ll start trotting alongside us instantly.

Unfortunately, this method bites when we do actually say what we want, which we inevitably have to for discipline. Imagine telling your toddler to continue throwing food on the floor (eek!). Just this morning, Baby A was frantically waving her arms as my husband was changing her diaper, and after being whacked a few times, he asked her to stop. Lo and behold, she went at it faster and stronger!

The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Toddlers love being the centre of attention, and the thought that you’re doing something without them is unbearable. My favourite way of getting Baby A into bed for her afternoon nap is to tell her that mommy is very tired. Instantly, Baby A will exclaim, in a rather angry and betrayed voice, that she is very tired. That’s my cue – I pick her up, share my concern with a loud ‘oh no!’ and suggest that weariness can easily be remedied with a nap. This tactic often works at meal times as well. If you pretend like you’re about to eat your toddler’s food, they will instantly start eating it.

Of course, I could do without Baby A trying to jump onto the bandwagon each time. Yesterday I told her that I was having a very bad headache, and I was immediately informed (in an extremely pained voice) that so was she.

The Exchange

This is an age-old technique – you give something to get something in return. Let me change your diaper and you can have a sticker. Put away your blocks and I’ll take out the playdough. I’ve found that the exchange works better when you’re giving rather than taking, i.e. I get better results from turning off the TV and telling Baby a that I’ll turn it back on if she eats her food, rather than telling her that I’ll turn the TV off if she doesn’t eat.

The exchange works very well and teaches the child an important lesson about the workings of the world. That said, you can’t always have something to exchange and a child shouldn’t expect to be compensated for each small action, so it’s not a technique I use often.

The Distraction

This is less of a negotiation technique and more of a hustle. You use something to distract your child while you quickly get your way. For example, independent Baby A has started insisting that she change her diaper herself. Now while this is okay if she’s wearing a pull up, it ends in a disaster when she tries to stick on her diaper while lying down. I’ve discovered that if I ask her to sing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ for me while I’m changing her, she puts her hands up in the air to show me how the spider is climbing up the water spout, and voila, I’m done with the diaper change.

Attentive, curious, persistent toddlers are difficult to distract, so this technique has a very high failure rate, at least in our household. I usually try to give Baby A a small chore like, ‘go bring your teddy from your room’ when I have to rush to the toilet, but I often find that Baby A has abandoned her mission and is sneakily walking into the toilet behind me.

The ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it’ (or any other song along the same lines)

This song is amazing, and it helps that they sing it a lot at Baby A’s nursery. Not only can I get her to clap her hands, but I can change the lyrics to whatever I need done. We have several versions of this song, ranging from, ‘If you’re happy and you know it, lie down and close your eyes’ to ‘If you’re happy and you know it, eat your food’.

I have never experienced a situation where Baby A has failed to comply with the song, but the repetitive nature and the changing instructions in the lyrics mean that once Baby A has closed her eyes, she opens them again instantly to repeat the action in anticipation of the song continuing. She has also started to demand additions to the song as well as insisting that I act them out with her. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you see me wriggling my nose as I sing ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.

The Outsider

Have you ever wondered why your child listens more to strangers than to you? I have. Baby A will be lying on the floor, refusing to budge despite my requests and threats, and along will come a stranger, kindly ask Baby A to ‘listen to mommy and get up’, and Baby A will be up and trotting along in no time. I don’t know why she feels the need to ignore me and listen to others, but I do know that I have used this to my advantage. Earlier this month, we were out shopping for summer clothes and Baby A fell in love with a thick woollen jacket. Despite my attempts to explain to her that winter was nearly over and she won’t get a chance to wear this jacket for a year at which point it won’t fit her, she refused to put it down. Two minutes later, when the salesman asked her for the jacket, she promptly took it off and handed it to him.

Clearly, I need to spend more time teaching Baby A about ‘stranger danger’, or toughening her up to stand up for herself. Until I figure that one out though, this technique works most times!

The Beggar

I have found that the number of times I use ‘please’ in a sentence is directly proportional to the number to times Baby A uses ‘no’. Begging is the least effective parental negotiation technique and I have included it here only to alert you – this technique is the most effective toddler negotiation technique. I find it very difficult to refuse anything to Baby A when she uses the magic word. Toddlers talk to each other, ladies and gentlemen (how else would Baby A have developed a sudden interest in sitting on the potty just for amusement when I’ve not even started potty training her), so be on guard!

The Compromise

This negotiation technique is for when all else fails. If you are unable to get your toddler to comply with your wishes, try ‘the compromise’. This basically involves you renegotiating the bare minimum standards you hold for yourself and your family.

‘I’m sure that her hands are not that dirty! Plus, germs are needed to build immunity.’

‘I can clean all that up once she’s done throwing it all out.’

‘I’m sure she’ll eat when she’s hungry (Which is probably going to be at 3am, but I did consciously decide to have a child)’


 I hope you found these helpful. As I’m not a psychologist, please use your own discretion with using any of the above-mentioned techniques. If you have discovered any other techniques, please share them with me! I’m quite sure that Baby A will start to figure these out very soon, and I’ll need to be on top of my game if I’m ever going to get anything done around here!

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