Moms: When No Means ... Let’s Talk About It A recent video of Vice President Joe Biden trying to wrangle his script from a colleague's three-year-old has sparked debate on something that parents often struggle with: getting kids to cooperate. In Tell Me More's weekly parenting segment, host Michel Martin discusses techniques for negotiating with your children. Regular "Moms" contributors Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner and joined by early childhood specialist and George Washington University education professor Mike Castleberry.
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Moms: When No Means ... Let’s Talk About It

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Moms: When No Means ... Let’s Talk About It

Moms: When No Means ... Let’s Talk About It

Moms: When No Means ... Let’s Talk About It

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132836463/132836450" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A recent video of Vice President Joe Biden trying to wrangle his script from a colleague's three-year-old has sparked debate on something that parents often struggle with: getting kids to cooperate. In Tell Me More's weekly parenting segment, host Michel Martin discusses techniques for negotiating with your children. Regular "Moms" contributors Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner and joined by early childhood specialist and George Washington University education professor Mike Castleberry.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Next, to our weekly Moms conversation.

They say it takes a village to raise a child but maybe you just need a few Moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their savvy and common sense parenting advice.

Today we're talking about something every parent has to do at some point, getting the kids to cooperate. We started thinking about this after watching Vice President Joe Biden as he was swearing in new members of the Senate earlier this month. The son of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden ran up to Biden and snatched his script. And as you can hear, the vice president might have an easier time negotiating with Senate Republicans.

This is how it went down.

JOE BIDEN: I need to borrow that back, William.

WILLIAM WYDEN: No.

BIDEN: Oh god, give me, give me, give me, give me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: No. William won't give that back to me. I'll trade with you. I'll make a - hey, here's the deal. You see this? If you can tell me which hand it's in, you can have it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Which hand?

WYDEN: That. This.

BIDEN: There you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Now the vice president got his script back, but we were wondering, is it really worth it to haggle with a preschooler?

Joining us to talk about this are our regular moms, Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner. Also here with us to provide additional perspective is Professor Michael Castleberry. He's a professor of education at the George Washington University and he specializes in early childhood and special education, and they're all with us now in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Great to be here.

MICHAEL CASTLEBERRY: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: I think we all thought that was very cute. But you know what, I wonder if he thought it was as cute.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I very much doubt. Vice President Biden probably didn't think it was cute and I'm not sure Senator Wyden and his wife, whether they thought it was as cute as all that. But, and we've all been there. So Leslie, why don't you, you know, fess up. When was the last time you were there?

MORGAN STEINER: Oh, boy. You know, this morning, last night, all weekend. You know, I think you don't know until you're a parent what incredible natural negotiators children are and how hard it is to get them to do what you want them to do even when what you want is very reasonable.

MARTIN: And Dani, this is in part cultural, though, don't you think? I mean, 'cause the whole continuum of what we consider tolerable in terms of negotiating with kids is in part what we grew up with, it's in part cultural. Don't you think?

TUCKER: I totally agree because, you know, if it was my child, he got his hands spanked then, you know, the paper would have had to go back to get the mint. But, you know...

MARTIN: Or the camera.

TUCKER: Or the - right. You know...

MARTIN: Tell the truth. If there were all those TV cameras there you would've still smacked the hand?

TUCKER: I would ask the hand of a little bit, but I would've gave him that eye that said we're going to the bathroom as soon as we leave here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: You know, then eye? I would've gave him that little tap. But I understand that, you know, it was - where he was it had to be done that way.

MARTIN: And if you're really honest about it, don't you think you give your kids more latitude than probably you were given when you were growing up?

TUCKER: Oh, tons. My parents didn't negotiate with us. There was no negotiating with kids. My father's whole negotiation tool was I'm the father, you're the child. That's about the end of it.

MARTIN: Or belt or switch?

TUCKER: Right. Right. And go get your own switch while you're at it, you know, and don't come back with the wrong one. So...

CASTLEBERRY: But, you know that was...

MARTIN: Prof. Castleberry, talk a little bit, if you would.

CASTLEBERRY: That was an interesting thing about the Biden scenario is that the parents were very absent. You know, you didn't see the parents come to support or direct the child. They left Biden to do battle with this little guy. The little guy was more than adequate to handle Biden. And at the very end, even though people here had to hear it but they couldn't see it, when Biden held out the candy for someone, he also reached over and grabbed his script back. You know, so you're right, there's parenting there but there's also - where were his parents?

MARTIN: Prof. Castleberry, to that point, this whole concept of negotiating with your kids, is that a relatively recent thing, that we're even talking about something like that?

CASTLEBERRY: Well, you may be talking about it here and you may be talking about it with the word negotiating, but we've been negotiating with kids from their birth.

And by the time they are, say, the age of Leslie's teenagers or something like that, they have figured out our negotiating style or styles, because you just don't have one style. They have our number, they know exactly where our weak points are and everything like that. So they are more than formidable, you know, with their language skills and everything to handle us probably what, from six and seven on. And then by the time they become teens they're really good.

MARTIN: Let's take it from a different perspective now. Is there something to be said for teaching a child to negotiate?

CASTLEBERRY: Absolutely. I mean, negotiation is a part of life. You could make a case for the fact that everything we have to do in schooling and in business is based on the art of negotiation. It's trying to get what you want. It's trying not to alienate the person. Even though you want to get a good deal from them, your kids are always working you for something they want. If they just tell you they want it and they realize that just doesn't have a lot of currency, they're going to have to come up with a better argument if they're going to get anywhere with you.

MARTIN: So teaching kids the skills is a positive thing.

CASTLEBERRY: Oh...

MARTIN: Is there a scenario in which you think it goes too far?

CASTLEBERRY: Sure. That's when you find yourself bending over trying to get a piece of paper away from a three-year-old and you don't know how to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I haven't gotten an interview with Mr. Wyden yet, so let's just try to be a little soft pedal a little bit to him.

If you're just tuning in, we're talking about negotiating with your children. It's our regular visit with our moms, our parents. We're speaking with our regulars, Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner. Also with us this week is Prof. Michael Castleberry, professor of education at the George Washington University. He is a specialist in early childhood and special education.

So Leslie, can you think of an example where you think you handled it well? And you can you think of another one where you think, you know, I really blew that one?

MORGAN STEINER: Yes. I can think of both examples quite easily.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MORGAN STEINER: I would say that, you know, one of the problems is that my husband and I never worked this out in advance. You know, in the early days of being in love with our children we didn't think how strict or permissive we would be, so we had to make it up as we went along. But one thing we did that we were very strict about that I'm thrilled that we did is that we had a like a no violence rule in our household. You couldn't be violent with each other. You couldn't hit each other. You couldn't watch violent movies and you couldn't watch violent video games. It's never been a part of our household and I'm really glad that we just had a zero tolerance policy on that front.

I think that we've gone too far in the other direction in terms of leniency. I think we wanted our kids to be good negotiators and to question authority. I wish they wouldn't question it so much, though. I think it's a hard way to raise kids. I think it's hard for the whole family. Our household tends to be loud and chaotic and when I say to them, no, on this one you can't negotiate with me, it means nothing to them.

So I think we've gone too far on some subjects, particularly bedtime and just the idea that no means no, I think my kids don't really understand that when it comes to us.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? What do you think you've done well and what do you think may have - where you may have blown it?

TUCKER: I've raised DeVaughn and Imani with the idea of there's a difference between negotiating and being obedient. There is no negotiation in you being obedient. Obey me. If I tell you to do something, you obey. We don't negotiate on that. Okay. Now negotiation with him is he wanted to get his ears pierced at 16 and I said 18. Okay mom, if I bring home four A's, will you back that age up for me? Oh, that's how I get four A's? Okay. Fine. So we, you know, those type of things I didn't mind negotiating. Got my four A's and he got his ears pierced at 16.

MARTIN: That's interesting. So he came up with that ear...

TUCKER: He came up with that. Yeah.

MARTIN: I was wondering why you...

TUCKER: Why I finally gave in?

MARTIN: You capitulated on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: And, you know, that was a break for me 'cause I normally don't bend that way, but I was running out of ways to motivate him to do better. I knew he could do better but when they get to certain, teenagers, to me, especially males, they kind of lock down, especially my son. He's set on what he going to do, so I had to use that too, 'cause I wanted to some A's. It's time for you to graduate and we need to get those grades up so you can be marketable 'cause you're getting out of my house. So that worked for me.

MARTIN: Professor Castleberry, can you give us some common sense guidelines on what are appropriate parameters?

CASTLEBERRY: Dani just gave you a really good common sense guideline, because that was a win-win negotiation. She went into it realizing that she had a goal that was really important to her and that's the grades, and she was willing to negotiate what it's going to take for him to decide he wants to work up to it.

You know, a lot of times we think we're negotiating when we're really just sort of telling our kids what to do and then they don't do it and then we don't do anything about it.

MARTIN: What's the difference? Tell me though. You say...

CASTLEBERRY: Well, that...

MARTIN: Give me an example of that, where we think we are but we're really not.

CASTLEBERRY: That's not negotiating, that's talking to yourself.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: I like that.

CASTLEBERRY: You know, negotiating is when your kid comes in and asks you if they can do something that they know right away you're going to tell them they can't do. And before you even can say anything they start rolling their eyes and they start with their arguments.

And you have to say to them, you know what, you've already made me mad with this, okay? What I'm going to do is I'm going to make a cup of tea. I'm going to sit down at the table. I'm going to wait five minutes. If you want to have a discussion about what you'd like to do, you come back in five minutes with something to drink and we'll sit down and we'll have a conversation. That's...

MARTIN: Well, to that point, Professor Castleberry, I wanted to ask you. If you have not handled this particularly well, this whole negotiating thing and you realize, you say look, we've been negotiating from the time the kids were six months old and you realize you've blown it. How do you fix it?

CASTLEBERRY: I think exactly like Leslie said. We need to renegotiate this. Everything in life is negotiable, which means it's renegotiable. And sometimes it's a big thing. I spent two weeks in California with my 13-year-old grandchildren and - a boy and a girl or a young man and a young woman. Excuse me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CASTLEBERRY: And my grandson and I were going to go to the mall during the holidays and his pants were sliding off his rear end and I said I'm not going out the door with you like that. And he wanted to go to the mall because he wanted to, you know, look for chicks. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Or get more pants.

CASTLEBERRY: And I said I'm not going out with you like that because your pants are falling down. And he said I don't have the belt. And I said then go get some string. And lo and behold, he went and found some cord to some computer piece that was probably ruined forever but he came out with his pants tied up, you know, and we went to the mall.

MARTIN: Have you ever blown it?

CASTLEBERRY: Oh everybody's blown it. A lot of times we blow it because maybe we've been negotiating with them too long. Maybe we really didn't know what our bottom line was in a negotiation. And sometimes we just get frustrated because in effect, as a parent, you're really saying to yourself - just do what I want you to do 'cause I want you to do it.

That works better with a three-year-old because you can pick them up and you can put them in a room and close the door and walk away or something. It doesn't work with a 13-year-old who has learned all your weaker more honorable points and everything and is probably as good at negotiating with you as you are at negotiating with them.

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. That's what I say. Every kid's a lawyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MORGAN STEINER: That's true.

MARTIN: Every kid's a lawyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Dani, final thought from you?

TUCKER: I totally agree with Michael. And I'd just like to say to parents, if you establish those boundaries when they're young, you'll be surprised to see how hard it will not be when they get a little older. You shouldn't be in my opinion, negotiating with a two and a three and a four-year-old.

MARTIN: Leslie, final thought?

MORGAN STEINER: My final thought is that I envy families where the parents are much more strict, but I wouldn't want to be a kid in that household. And I try to tell myself that when I'm getting really frustrated with my endless, boring negotiations with the kids over bedtime and who gets to sit where in the car and, you know, the chores that they have to do.

MARTIN: Leslie Morgan Steiner and Dani Tucker are our regular Moms contributors. Also with us this week, Professor Michael Castleberry, professor of early childhood and special education at the George Washington University. And they were all here in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you all so much and Happy New Year.

TUCKER: Thank you. Happy New Year.

MORGAN STEINER: Thank you, Michel.

CASTLEBERRY: Happy New Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more tomorrow.

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