Why You Can't Really "Win" an Argument with Your Child
Why does arguing with your child give him power? When you engage in fights
with your child, over time he will begin to
believe that he is your peer and that he has the power to challenge you. This is
a loaded situation because your child doesn't realize that this empowerment he's
feeling isn't real. The more powerful he thinks he is (and the more the defiant
behavior gets him what he wants) the more he will use fighting as a way to solve
It's so important to learn how to manage this type of behavior in your kids. I
know this isn't easy-in fact, it's probably one of the most difficult things you
have to learn as a parent. The lesson here is, "How can I let my child mature
and individuate with the least amount of fights possible?" Remember, the goal
here is for your child to learn how to be responsible, communicate well with
others, and develop problem-solving skills.
Is it ever okay to argue?
Let me be clear: there is a difference between a disagreement and a habitual
pattern of arguing with your child. You want to teach your kids appropriate ways
to communicate a disagreement. Knowing how to express disagreements in an
effective way is an important life skill. Generally, it's best to talk about
things you don't agree on when both of you are calm. Your child should learn how
to state his or her point of view in a respectful way (without name-calling or
being rude). Listening is also a critical skill here, because you want to be
able to hear what the other person has to say without negating them or becoming
defensive. In the end, you may not change your mind, but at least each side has
spoken and been heard.
As a parent, I understand how easy it is to get into fights with your child.
Power struggles can occur over issues large and small, from getting your child
to clean her room to arguing over homework and curfew times. Something James and
I always said to parents was, "You don't have to attend every fight you're
invited to." That means that you don't have to get sucked into an argument every
time your child wants to have one.
An important thing to realize is that you can't really "win" a fight with your
child. When an argument escalates, hurtful things are often said, people become
reactive, and there is a likelihood of continued miscommunication-and when that
happens, nobody wins. When you get into argumentative patterns with your kids,
you will simply end up losing ground. Your child will stop listening to your
rules, because he'll know that if he argues with you, there's a chance you'll
give in. After all, one of the main reasons kids continue to fight with their
parents is because they know they might be able to wear us down and get us to
change our minds.
The First Step: Know yourself.
The first step in changing this pattern with your child is for you to know
yourself and know your triggers. What pushes your buttons easily? There may even
be times of the day when arguments seem to happen more easily. Maybe in your
case, it's the morning rush to get everyone out of the house. Be aware of those
times and plan around them.
My trigger was coming home from work and seeing my teen age son lounging in the
living room eating potato chips-usually leaving a mess. It would push my buttons
and we would get into it immediately. I really had to work at not getting angry,
giving myself a break, and giving myself some down time after work. I would go
up to my room, change, and decompress from my day. When I was calm, I could talk
to my son about cleaning up in a reasonable way without blowing up.
Know that when you get into patterns of arguing, it makes it difficult to
respond thoughtfully to your kids. You fall into a trap, so to speak, when a
morning fight becomes a habit in your household. It's a bit like having
quicksand in your living room; you keep getting sucked into it every day, even
though you know it's there!
I understand that parental stresses in our lives can really make us feel out of
whack. Sometimes we just don't know other ways of coping, so we lose the ability
to effectively communicate. Unfortunately if we do the same thing over and over,
we're going to keep getting the same results because nothing's going to change.
Step 2: Ask these questions.
Once you see that fighting with your child has become a pattern, you need to
stop in your tracks and re-evaluate how you're interacting with him.
What happens right before you get to that place?
How does it happen?
What's the sequence of events that often leads to the argument?
Are there trigger words, trigger requests, or trigger times of day for you?
Answering these questions will help you have that insight you need, so the next
time you're there with your child, you'll be able to stop yourself. Remember, no
one ever usually "wins" an argument-it's really about what gets avoided through
arguing. And what your child generally wants to avoid are consequences, limits
and being held accountable for his behavior. Fighting becomes an ineffective
habit, one that might lead your child to believe that he can use arguing as his
main ?go to? to get out of things he doesn't want to do in life.
Step 3: Plan to change the pattern.
If you start acknowledging this pattern, you can start to make a change. Plan a
strategy for the next time you see a fight emerging. What will you do when your
buttons are pushed? When your child tries to pull you into a power struggle,
decide that you're not going to "play" this time. To make this more clear,
here's an example: Let's say you've given your teen daughter a consequence and
she's trying to get out of it by fighting with you. If you stay in the room and
the argument continues, you're just giving her more power.
Instead, you can simply say, "We've talked about what's going to happen. I don't
want to discuss it anymore," and then leave the room. When you leave, you take
all the power with you, and your child will be left yelling at the wall.
Step 4: Let your child know.
Once you've realized that you have a certain
pattern with your child and you've decided that you're going to change it, let
your child know that you're not going to give into these arguments anymore.
Depending on the age of your child, you can even say something like, "I'm going
to work on not arguing anymore. It doesn't work for us. The next time this comes
up I am going to ask you to go to your room until we both calm down and can
talk." "Why You Shouldn't Argue With Your Child" was reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents.
by Janet Lehman, M.S.W.
Janet Lehman, MSW, worked with her husband, James,
as co-creator of
The Total Transformation Program. Janet has worked with
troubled children and teens for over 30 years. She is a social worker who has
held a variety of positions during her career, including juvenile probation
officer, case manager, therapist and program director for 22 years in
traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.
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