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Often when there's a chance to do something special as a family -- say, watch a movie together, or bake some cookies -- we let the three kids decide exactly what we are going to do. For example, they select what flavor (chocolate chip, gingerbread, sugar?) or what movie (cartoon, superhero, comedy?). I try to put guidelines in place so obvious poor choices are ruled out (one kid hates peanuts, so peanut butter cookies aren't a choice for group baking).

The preschooler is pretty happy to go along with whatever. However, his older siblings (7 and 11) tend to make a choice and then dig in their heels rather than look for an option they would both enjoy. Once the youngest gets older, he'll doubtless start to form his own opinions and make the situation even worse.

I see a few bad options available:

  • Just dictate what's going to happen all the time.
  • Attempt to choose between them (and attempt to keep track of who "won" last time)
  • Refuse to proceed with the activity until they agree on something (which seems to encourage the most stubbornness, rather than be the sibling who gives in first)
  • Let everybody have their way (we end up making 3x too many cookies and watching 3x too much TV!)

Ideally, though, I want to guide them to reach a consensus or negotiate their way through this. Not only does it feel more fair, but it is a life skill. How can I encourage them to calmly consider the choices and find a compromise?

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    When the preschooler starts having opinions, you are likely to start seeing two of them team up against the other one. Fun times! – Aravis May 6 '15 at 16:44
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Perhaps you could let one or the other (of the three) get to be the decider, by turns.

Do you do some table games that involve trading and negotiating? I wonder if they can do it in that context?

Sometimes it helps to walk out of the room, saying, When you've come to a negotiated agreement, come and get me. It can be helpful to leave them on their own to do their own style of discussing and working things out.

Sometimes that doesn't work. Do you ever say, "Today I can only handle one batch of cookies. I'm going to give you guys three minutes to see if you can reach an agreement that might not be perfect for anyone, but that everyone can live with. If you're still stuck after the three minutes, I get to choose!"

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