top of page
  • Guy Johnson

“If you eat three more peas, I’ll buy you a pony” / Strategies for parents negotiating with toddlers

Earlier in the summer, I posted an article on the negotiation tactics and strategies used by my 2-year-old daughter Lola and soon enough her younger sister Indie too (see above). The truth is, toddlers make rather good negotiators. They are willing to use extreme tactics and behaviours most adults would draw the line at… So, what can you do when negotiating your next boardroom (kitchen table) deal with your 2-year-old Director of Chaos? Here are a few of my favourites.

Information gathering

Understanding which negotiation variables have the most leverage with your child at any given time requires regular information gathering. Negotiation is all about getting inside the head of the other party – seeing the deal through their eyes. To identify the trading variables you possess, which carry the most clout, you can observe and note their most desired rewards.

In recent weeks, for Lola, this has cycled through the following: eating bits of chocolate chip cookies we baked together, watching Paw Patrol while sitting on the loo, making and inhabiting a ‘cosy corner’ on the sofa, sitting in the driving seat of our stationary Land Rover on the driveway and ‘helping’ me prepare meals (spilling things) in the kitchen.

On any given day, different items will carry more value… and for me as her negotiation counterpart, more leverage. So, gather information and get inside their little heads!


As I’ve mentioned before, positioning is all about shifting their expectations ahead of the negotiation through actions and statements to create a sense of inevitability about the deal.

One positioning action I employ is to ask Lola to help me prepare the meal (something she loves doing). This helps to create a sense of ownership of the meal for her. In the background, it shifts her expectations and creates a sense of inevitability about its consumption too.

Conditional trades

Conditional trades sit at the heart of collaborative negotiation and win-win outcomes.

This is no different in the rug-rat arena.

The mechanism at the heart of conditional trading is the phrase, If you… then I…

This simple phrase must be constructed with pain before gain – i.e. you demand your ‘take’ first before offering your conditional ‘give’ in return. Here are a couple of examples:

“If you can finish all of your fish pie, then I’ll give you some of Granny’s raspberry jam in your yoghurt”

“If you eat two more mouthfuls of broccoli, then we can go and play in the Land Rover after tea”

Slow release tactic

If the whole proposal (i.e. a whole plate of challenging food) is too much for them to get their head around in one go, then slowly build it up slice by slice, one small portion at a time to generate some deal momentum.

Deadlock management

Let’s face it, sometimes, it seems no matter what you try, things breakdown into a full-blown tantrum fuelled stand-off. In negotiation terms, this can represent a no-deal or deadlock scenario.

What tactics can you use for deadlock mitigation? Here are a few which have worked for me:

Take them for a 2-minute time out in another room. This serves to cool tempers, distract from their entrenched position and provide a chance of a fresh start to the mealtime negotiation.

Repackage the deal: deconstruct the previous negotiation and re-package the deal in a different shape.

E.g. where conditional trades of “if you eat your main course, then I’ll give you pudding” are failing, try:

“if you can show your baby sister how a big girl eats a piece of broccoli, then you can eat your pudding in your den”

Good luck trying some of these strategies out. Remember – the principles underpinning all of these methods are common to the world of commercial negotiation and beyond!

If you’d like help improving your team’s negotiating capability, then get in touch at

12 views0 comments


bottom of page