Teaching Our Kids to Argue and Disagree
As a parent of three, I often find myself reminding our kids to stop arguing. Or I find myself telling them to stop arguing with me. But instead of using the word “stop” over and over (and over), I have found the need to teach our kids how to argue effectively.
As an adult, we need to know how to argue effectively and how to disagree with others calmly. We need to know how to say what we mean, how to prove our point, and how to disagree with others and still be kind, strong, and personable.
Kids will argue with us over pretty much anything. Often because they are just having a hard time and don’t want to do something. We all feel like this sometimes. For kids, they are trying to be autonomous and independent, and have some control over their lives. Testing limits is one way they try to be autonomous. This is normal, healthy development, although it may be frustrating. When this happens, my favorite line is, “I love you too much to argue.” Using this phrase helps me avoid a power struggle with them. As parents, we do not want to overpower our children or fight with them. They are merely trying to have some control in their lives. When our kids argue about getting ready for bed and I continue to remind them or explain over and over why it is bed time, we are in a power struggle. No one wins in battles with our kids. I may get them to get ready for bed, but arguing with them doesn’t mean I won the battle.
Although there are times our kids are arguing just to argue, there are many more times when they are trying to tell us something. Take the time to listen to them and find out what is going on. Think about times when you have needed to express something. How do you react when your feelings are blown off or you aren’t listened to? Now think of how a child would react to the same response. We should respond to our children the same way we would want something to respond to us. Determining why they are arguing can provide you with insight into what is going on. When our kids are trying to express emotions, feelings, or beliefs about something, we need to take the time to let them express what they are feeling and we need to be there to listen. Using love and empathy, we can listen to what they are trying to express and help them understand their emotions. One of the most important things we can teach out kids is how to manage their emotions.
One way to avoid power struggles is by giving kids as much power as you can. We all have a need to have some control and power in our lives, kids especially. But kids don’t usually get to have much control and power over their lives. By giving kids choices and allowing them to make decisions gives them a sense of control. Giving away power we don’t need can allow us to get power back when we need it. Allowing our kids to make lots of small decisions gives us the chance to get power back and make the bigger decisions. “I gave you lots of choices throughout the day, now it’s my turn to make a decision.” Children who do not get much control over their lives often grow into adults who do not know how to make decisions and often do not know how to handle the power and freedom that comes with adulthood.
Read more on the Power of Choices
Pick Your Battles
If you know a trigger area that always ends in a power struggle or arguing, plan ahead. If you have a child who never wants to go to bed, plan for bed time each day. Allow them to have lots of choices leading up to bed and let them know you love them too much to argue about bedtime tonight. Trigger areas are usually consistent, and we need to plan for them.
As I mentioned, as adults we need to know how to disagree effectively. As parents, we need to teach this is our children. Step one in an argument is managing our emotions. Teaching our kids emotional intelligence and how to manage their emotions is an important part of parenting. Additionally, when we listen to our kids as they express their feelings we are modeling an important part of arguing. We need to listen to the other person and try to understand their point. Instead of brushing your child aside while he is trying to express genuine hurt or concern, take the time to listen. Sometimes in a disagreement, we need to negotiate, sometimes we need to find common ground, sometimes we need to determine if another plan is better. As a family we will have lots of disagreements, and we need to find ways that work for our family to manage disagreements. Allowing our children to be part of the process models and teaches effective ways to disagree with others and find solutions.
- Why are you disagreeing with this?
- What do you think would work better?
- How can we handle this differently next time?
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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