Negotiating with Your Child: Lessons from a Former FBI Hostage Negotiator

Yes, my friend, you read that right.

We can learn how to negotiate with our toddler, child, or teen from a former FBI hostage negotiator!

Our kids can hold us hostage in our own homes with their angry rants and tantrums.  They can make their demands and get exactly what they want. 

How did kids get so good at negotiating right out of the womb???

My family listens to audiobooks in the car, and this one has been very interesting to Ethan (our 14 year old) and somewhat boring at times to Lucy (our 9 year old).  The book is by Chris Voss and it’s titled, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it.”  

Let me tell you about yesterday’s listen in the car.  The author described negotiating with a bank robber who was holding hostages.  The police department negotiator Joe had been on the line for 5 hours with little success, so they decided to give the call over to Chris, the FBI negotiator.

Chris used his late night FM DJ calm, deep voice.

“Hey, what happened to Joe?” the bank robber asked with agitation.

“Joe’s gone. This is Chris.  You’re talking to me now.”  Chris said this slowly with confidence in that FM DJ voice, his voice lowering at the end of the sentence.

This is the part I loved.  It’s like when mom has been in the picture with no success, and dad strides in, dismisses mom to the kids’ chagrin, and says “Mom’s gone.  This is dad.  You’re talking to me now.”  

Of course, it can be the other way around too, but the point I want to you to grasp is the importance of tone.

We can communicate TONE!  TONE!  TONE!  TOOOONE!

This implies panic, that we are scattered, that our kids have us on the ropes, that they have us exactly where they want us!

Or we might raise our voice at the end of each sentence, as if we are asking for permission instead of giving instructions.

t o n e ???   t o n e ???   t o n e ???

Like we are a little mouse and our four-year-old is the lion.

In contrast, you should use a calm tone and slow your voice down, lowering your voice at the end of sentences.  As Chris Voss writes in the book (p. 33),

“When you inflect your voice in a downward way, you put it out there that you’ve got it covered.  Talking slowly and clearly you convey one idea: I’m in control.  When you inflect in an upward way, you invite a response.  Why?  Because you’ve brought in a measure of uncertainty.  You’ve made a statement sound like a question.  You’ve left the door open for the other guy to take the lead.”

That is so useful!

So the next time you are in the beginning stages of negotiation with your child over what is being served for dinner or over a certain video game, remember this lesson from the FBI.  Use a calm tone.  Demonstrate with your voice that you are in control.  Your child does not have the power to drive you crazy.  Your downward inflection shows you are really boss.

So you’ll be able to say, “Tired, weak mom is gone.  This is new mom. You’re talking to me now.” 

Share this post:

Sign up for Parenting updates!

Get weekly updates from Family Christian on all things Parenting!

Additional Parenting Articles