One of our ultimate goals as a parent is not to win any one particular fight, but rather to win your child’s love and respect for a lifetime. That’s why it’s best to first acknowledge your tot’s desire, and second try to find a way you both can win…even when you disagree with him!

All around the world, people hash out agreements by hard bargaining… and toddlers love to negotiate. They quickly learn bargaining tactics, like begging (Please? P-l-e-a-s-e!!!), exaggeration (You never let me!), pouty protests (You’re not fair!) and noticing inconsistency (But you let her do it!).

Your tot will probably use these tools of persuasion on you—every single day—as he tries to get you to compromise! Most of us consider a 50-50 compromise to be pretty fair: half for you, half for me. But that’s not how toddlers see things. Their idea of a fair compromise is around 90-10 (you get a tiny bit of what you want and he gets the 90%!).

That’s because toddlers focus so much on what they don’t get, their primitive little minds have trouble sharing…and seem pretty demanding.

The best parents are good at figuring out Win-Win Compromises—where your tot feels good about getting a lot of what he wants…and you also get some of what you want. This simple approach can be boiled down to these three steps:

Tips for Toddler Cooperation and Compromise

  1. Connect with respect: Use the Fast Food Rule and Toddler-ese to let your child know you totally understand—and care about—how much they want that thing!
  2. Offer a “bad” compromise: First, offer a ‘bad deal’ (your toddler only gets a tiny bit of what they want). Your tot will immediately reject it. This makes them feel like a tough negotiator.
  3. Offer a 90-10 compromise: When your toddler refuses, “reluctantly” give in. (Ham it up a little to make your tot feel that they are driving a really hard bargain! Then, “unhappily” make an offer that gives your toddler most of what they want...they get the 90%, but—at the last second—require them to compromise…a tiny bit.

Here’s an example. Imagine you want your son, Sam, to eat 10 peas and he refuses, demanding his favorite crackers instead:

  1. Connect with respect: “Sammy says, ‘No, no!, No peas!’ Sammy says ‘No peas.’ Sammy wants crackers!”
  2. Make a crummy offer: Remove two peas, but keep eight in front of him and say, “Okay, okay. You win! You can have crackers, but first you have to eat this many peas, okay? Come on…fast…eat them up!” Of course, Sammy will probably say, “No!”
  3. Give in 90% and seem defeated: Pout and wave your hands as if to indicate I give up! Then in a whine voice say, “Okay, Sammy wins! I never win! You win a hundred times! You say, ‘No peas!’ Okay! Here are your crackers…” But just as you are about to give him the crackers, take them back, whack yourself on the forehead and say, “Uh-oh! Silly Mommy! I forgot. First, you have to eat just one teeny, tiny baby pea… then you get this whole, big a bunch of crackers.”

If Sammy totally refuses to eat any peas, sincerely acknowledge what he wants, but then let him leave the table. He won because he didn’t eat the peas and you won because he left…without the crackers. Pause on negotiations so you can save face, and helps him see that stubbornness won’t get him what he wants. As he leaves (or when he cries in protest) say, “You say no peas! Not even one! That makes Mommy sad but okay, you win. So no crackers for now and you go play. I’ll check on you in a little bit. Bye-bye.” 

Speed your child’s learning by giving extra opportunities to compromise. For example, offer peas a few days in a row, even during lunch. Most kids soon accept a 90-10 deal and you will be delighted to see that the struggles get easier and easier as your tot starts to like making ‘win-win’ deals with you. This may seem like a big effort, but all your extra work now will soon lead to you having a happier, more patient—and fairer—child. For more information on win-win compromises and other toddler tips, see The Happiest Toddler On The Block.

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.