It’s amazing how persistent children can be. Kids as young as 2 or 3 years old can find inventive ways to persuade mom or dad to give them what they want. It can be confusing and maddening when your 6 year old insists it’s not fair that he has to clean up his toys. It can be exasperating when your 8 year old won’t give up the fight to go to the neighbor’s house to play, when dinner is ready in 2 minutes. It can feel infuriating when your teen insists that you just don’t understand them.
Many parents find themselves struggling through extensive, infuriating arguments over bedtime, eating veggies, “bad attitude,” cleaning rooms, tech time, homework, objections to rules, issues of self expression, deviation from parental expectations, or just about anything that could be opposed by a child. How many of us have gotten sucked into an argument over something as silly as what pajamas our child wears to bed?
It can be difficult not to be drawn into these arguments when we feel like our parental authority is being trampled on. We tend to feel like we need to reestablish our power and make sure we win. It’s important to consider the cost of inflexibility and argument for the sake of remaining “the parent.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting passive parenting. It’s not about “letting the kids win the argument.” It’s about not participating in the argument, not chasing the crazy greased pig of trying to get our kids to concede. There is a better way to deal with arguments that will teach our kids boundaries, respectful communication and problem solving, while stopping the spinning treadmill disputes in their tracks.
The following are 6 ways to apply the principles of TRU when the kids start arguing. Each technique includes a concept and specific words that can help you stop the arguing in your household and enjoy more peace and constructive problem solving.
6 Ways to stop the arguing
- Empathize: “Sounds like you don’t feel like that’s fair. You’re having a hard time with ______.” Empathy is the foundation of encouraging relationship and positive change. The secret is to reflect, to let our child know that we understand what they are saying and feeling. There’s no need to defend your position or make further demands.
- Distraction or redirection: “Let’s go build a jeep from your Lego’s.” It really doesn’t matter what you use to distract and move their attention to something more positive. Simply invite them to join you in some activity other than arguing. If they object, you can inform them that you’ll come back to the discussion when you both can talk about it calmly and find a better solution.
- Compromise and problem solve: “Let’s figure out how we could make this work best for both of us. You share your side and then I’ll share mine and we’ll figure something out that will hopefully work for both of us.” When we model and teach compromise and problem solving to our kids, we have to be willing to honestly listen to their suggestions. Then, and only then, we can offer our own ideas and work together to find a reasonable solution that everyone can stand behind.
- Firm but kind refusal to argue: “I love you too much to argue.” This is a short and simple phrase that I learned a long time ago from my Love and Logic training. This can accompany any of the other techniques in this list as a broken record approach to remove yourself from endless explanations that never go anywhere. This phrase acknowledges the child without playing into the power struggle.
- Listen, just listen: Sometimes, no words are needed. Make eye contact and truly listen. Try to understand. Acknowledge their argument and try to honestly understand it without feeling a need to react or change your mind regarding your position. You may be surprised what happens when you just allow them to talk without feeling like you have to constantly defend your reasoning for saying “no” to them or whatever your child is arguing.
- Set clear limits with conditions and then leave it alone: “You are welcome to______, as soon as _________.” It’s important to set clear limits. A child might say, “I don’t want to clean my room. My friends don’t have to clean their rooms.” Etc. Etc. Etc. In a situation like this we can focus on the tasks rather than on what we might term “backtalk.” Simply set the limit and move on with life. There is no need to argue the points of why they need to do it, no need to explain the importance of order and cleanliness at that moment. Simply Empathize and set the limit. You could say, “I know you don’t want to clean the room. You sound upset about it. Sorry it’s such a struggle for you. I would love to help you find a solution if you would like. You are welcome to go play as soon as the room is clean.” If they persist, repeat the limit setting phrase and continue to empathize. If they stop arguing and sincerely seek help to find better solutions, help them brainstorm and find ways to improve the situation.
End the arguments, once and for all
The truth is that this impulsive drive to control things and “win” the arguments that pop up never actually help us or our kids. The main overarching truth when it comes to ending arguments with our children is to remember that we have greater power to positively effect and change our children’s lives, and to make our own lives happier, when we give up control and trade it for genuine, positive influence.