“Please use your inside voice.”
“Eat your broccoli.”
“It’s time to go to bed.”
“Wear your jacket.”
As a parent, you’ve probably said these kinds of statements hundreds of times to your child. Adults are always telling kids how to behave. But there are times when kids do things better than we grown-ups do. Here are five behaviors adults would do well to learn from children:
If you tell your child their bedtime is 8:00 p.m., they’re likely to ask for 8:30 p.m. instead. Or if you suggest they eat five more bites of their dinner, they may respond, “Can I just eat three bites?” Children have little fear of negotiating with adults or other kids.
Why is negotiating hard for adults?
A poll conducted by global staffing firm Robert Half found that almost half of workers do not negotiate on salary when given an employment offer. However, 70 percent of senior managers say they expect and are prepared for some back-and-forth on salary negotiations. That means a significant amount of people could have gotten more money simply if they had asked.
A survey by salary.com found that people don’t ask for a raise or try to negotiate in their existing jobs because they’re afraid they will seem greedy, will get turned down, or will lose their job because they asked for more.
“A negotiation is an experience that is rife with conflicting motivations,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You. It represents something you want, but also something you desperately don’t want, such as rejection or loss.
How can adults negotiate better?
Negotiating is an important skill in business transactions because it enables you to earn a higher salary or pay less for a car or house. But it’s also good to know how to negotiate well in personal relationships, especially considering that you and your friends and family won’t always want the same things and will need to negotiate and find a way that works for everyone.
In an article for Psychology Today, Ruth Lee Johnson, J.D., an attorney who specializes in complex business litigation, says that everyone should learn how to negotiate like a lawyer. To improve your negotiating skills in any situation, personal or professional, she suggests you practice listening, sincerely empathizing, and asserting yourself respectfully.
Johnson also recommends going into any negotiating conversation with a BATNA, a best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Simply put, that means you should keep your next best option in mind in case you don’t get what you’re hoping for in the negotiation.
For example, let’s say your friend is remodeling their kitchen and you’d like to buy their old appliances. Before going into that conversation with your friend, you can check Craigslist for other appliance options and find something that would work. Then, if your friend doesn’t offer you a good enough price, you won’t feel stress or pressure to make it work. You’ll know that you have another option.
2. Just say no
No is a favorite word for a lot of toddlers. A child will cross their arms and stand their ground, shouting “no” until they turn blue in the face. Adults do not have the same ease with using the word.
Why is saying no hard for adults?
Think back to the times you agreed to do something even though you didn’t have the time, energy, or interest. Why did you agree? You may have said yes for one of these common reasons:
to feel like you belong
to receive approval from others
to avoid upsetting or disappointing another person
to feel helpful and valued
How can adults just say “no”?
Saying “no” simply means you’re setting priorities, drawing healthy boundaries, and avoiding overextending yourself. When you clearly assess which things you need to do and which you need to skip, it will leave you feeling empowered rather than powerless. With practice, you’ll improve your ability to say no in a polite, diplomatic way. As you learn to say “no” to some things, you’ll have more time and energy to say “yes” to what is most important.
3. Play creatively
If a child sees a basket of dolls or Legos, they have the ability to play creatively for hours. Sometimes a cardboard box is enough inspiration for a child to pretend to be in a car, train, or plane. However, as people age, they rarely, if ever, use their imagination and creativity for play instead of work.
Why is creative play challenging for adults?
“Play [for adults] is perceived as unproductive, petty, or even a guilty pleasure,” says psychologist Margarita Tartakovsky. This leaves adults feeling as if creative play is unnecessary. However, Tartakovsky has found that adults are happier and healthier when they take time to add joy and playfulness to their life.
How can adults play creatively?
Tartakovsky suggests you can change how you think about play and then give yourself permission to play. She recommends using playful childhood memories to give you ideas of where to start. Did you like to do art projects? Then you can try painting as an adult. Did you like to play with building blocks? Perhaps you’d enjoy making a birdhouse or a woodworking project. Take inspiration from childhood, and then turn it into an adult pursuit.
And for the best way to add more playfulness to your life: simply play with a child. Let them take the lead, and they’ll show you how it’s done.
4. Keep Trying
If you’ve witnessed a child learning to walk or ride a bike, you will see that, despite falling down, they continue to get up until they have mastered the skill. Children don’t allow failure to hinder them. They just keep trying until they succeed.
Why is it difficult for adults to keep trying?
Most success is the result of many failed attempts. But when people fail, they often consider it a roadblock to success instead of a stepping-stone, so they quit instead of trying again.
How can adults keep trying?
In a Psychology Today article, Guy Winch, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts, discusses how when people fail they can believe they are helpless and unable to achieve their goal.
The best way to overcome failure is to focus on the aspects you can control, says Winch. Once you identify what is and isn’t in your control, try to make improvements in the areas you can control. For example, take a class or practice ahead of time for your next presentation.
5. Find humor in everything
Children laugh at almost anything. If an adult speaks in a high-pitched voice or stumbles over a shoe, a child will erupt into a fit of laughter. It’s easy to make a child laugh, but—ask any comedian and they’ll tell you—it’s not so easy to elicit laughter from an adult.
Why is difficult for adults to laugh?
According to Robert Provine, Ph.D., author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, adults laugh less than children simply because they play less. Adulthood is full of seriousness and responsibility, and laughter gets lost in all the heaviness.
How can adults laugh more?
People are more likely to laugh when they are with other people, says Provine. So be sure to spend time with friends and family (and children!) who make you smile and laugh. You can also read humorous books or watch funny TV shows or videos.
It can be frustrating to hear your child say “no” to you or negotiate a later bedtime, but next time it happens, notice how easy it is for them to do these behaviors. It might just inspire you to do the same.
Cheryl Maguire holds a master of counseling psychology degree and has been published in various publications, including New York Times, Parents Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings.