By Jane Mose, MA, CFS Family Peer Specialist
Earlier in this series, we looked at reasons children might argue with their parents frequently—particularly children who have experienced trauma. Knowing the reasons behind the behavior can be very helpful in leading parents to the best solutions. However, here are some strategies that are often helpful, whether parents understand the cause of the behavior or not:
1. Be a mirror instead of a ping-pong paddle.
It takes two people to argue, so don’t engage in the argument. Don’t be like a ping-pong paddle, ready to volley back and forth with your child. Instead, think of yourself as a mirror, ready to reflect what your child is saying. For example, if your child is insisting that you promised to get items from the store for him tonight when you didn’t, try saying, “I hear you. It’s really important for you that I pick those things up soon. I bet it’s frustrating to you that I can’t get to the store tonight!” Often making sure that the child feels heard will be enough to end the argument.
2. Put the best construction on your child’s behavior.
Consider that disagreeing politely and advocating for herself might be skills your child has not yet developed, or that she may be acting this way in an instinctive, survival-type way based on her past experiences. Do not assume that your child is deliberately trying to upset you. This leads to the next strategy…
3. Stay calm.
Your child may, without even knowing it, be testing you to see if you can calmly and safely respond to her demands. Or your child may be testing to see if you will reject her if she argues with you. By staying calm and loving, you are providing a sense of safety for your child.
4. Consider the possibility that your child may be right.
If your child is correct in what he is saying and you made a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit that you made a mistake and apologize. Doing this will not undermine your authority as a parent, but it will model correct behavior for your child.
5. Try meeting unstated needs.
For example, it is a natural human tendency to get grumpy and even angry when we feel hungry, a condition frequently referred to as being “hangry.” When your child begins arguing with you and hasn’t eaten for a while, say, “I get grumpy when I haven’t eaten for a while. I wonder if that’s how you’re feeling. Would you like a snack?”
6. Express confidence in your child to comply with desired behavior.
Suppose that your daughter is arguing with you about whether she needs to start on a homework project now, instead of the day before it is due. Try saying, “I know you can be a very good student and that you don’t like feeling rushed and doing sloppy work. I’m confident that you can find a way to work on the project a little bit each day. Please let me know if you’d like my help!”
7. Provide two acceptable and positive choices.
For instance, if your child is arguing that he wants to go out to eat for supper, and you don’t want that extra expense right now, say, “We aren’t going out tonight, but I would be glad to make something you like. Would you like me to make spaghetti or pizza?” This provides the child some control and a voice while still keeping you, the parent, in charge.
8. Say yes as often as possible.
Children find it easier to accept a no from parents without arguing when their needs are usually met through yes answers. So fill your child’s “yes bucket” by saying yes to her as frequently as possible. Even if you can’t say yes to a request right away, find a way to say yes to a delayed response. For example, if your child asks for an ice cream cone, but it is almost time for dinner, say, “Yes, you may have an ice cream cone as soon as we’re done eating. We’ll make that our dessert tonight!”
9. When things are calm, teach alternative behaviors to arguing.
Your child may need to learn better ways to handle disagreements with others. Practice those when the child is calm rather than in the heat of the argument. Try role-playing, such as this: “You argued with me last night when I told you that your bedtime would be 8:30. Let’s practice a way that you could have handled that without getting so angry.” It often helps to have the child act out both the negative behavior (arguing) and a positive replacement (asking politely for an extra half-hour, or simply saying, “OK, Mom”). The more often the desired behavior is practiced, the more likely that it will replace the automatic behavior of arguing.
10. Thank the child for listening before he has a chance to argue.
If you know that your child is likely to argue with something you are about to say, say it and immediately follow up with, “Thank you for listening to me and not arguing!”—before the child even has a chance to begin arguing! It sounds silly, but it often works and prevents the argument from beginning.
One final thought: If the argument is about something small (wearing unmatched socks, watching the same show two days in a row, taking a few minutes to finish a video before bedtime, etc.), consider letting it go and allowing your child to make his preferred choice. This is not a sign of defeat for you as a parent, and it’s fine for you to say, in a loving tone of voice, “I’ve decided that I’ll let this go this time,” to show that you are still in authority.
Remember that your connection with your child—especially if you are raising a child who has experienced trauma—is crucial, and each interaction you have with your child will probably either strengthen or weaken that connection. Do all you can to make sure arguments end in ways that strengthen your parent-child relationship. When that happens, you both win!
If you are a parent going through an experience like this, know that you are not alone. Other parents who have had similar experiences to yours are being trained to be Certified Parent/Family Peer Specialists. These Peer Specialists do not do therapy, but because they have “been there.” They have a unique ability to walk alongside and support parents who feel exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, and, most of all, isolated as they raise their children.
Christian Family Solutions offers Family Peer Specialist services in Wisconsin. For more information on how Family Peer Specialists can support parents, speak with your counselor who can refer you to services. You can also call our intake team at 800-438-1772. We will walk you through the steps to determine if peer support is right for you.
Look for related topics from the CFS Peer Specialist:
Jane Mose, MA, is an adoptive mom and former special education teacher who appreciates the opportunity to support other parents and encourage them throughout their parenting journey. She is trained as a Certified Parent Peer Specialist through the State of Wisconsin and as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) Practitioner through the Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development.