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How To Walk Away From an Argument

Mar 12, 2008
When I grew up and I fought with my brothers, my mum and dad would say "Don't fight". They would intervene to stop the arguments but they didn't teach me ways to stop an argument. So when my children started fighting and yelling and screaming at each other, I decided to teach them a range of techniques to stop the fighting.

These techniques work equally well with adults as with children but I am going to focus just on teaching children these techniques. Rather than telling them what not to do, I prefer to give my children choices of what to do instead. In this way it gives them a sense of control and responsibility and a way to explore hostile situations. Even if I have a preferred technique, I want them to develop their own character or style but to recognize when a tactic isn't working that it's time to move on.

I define seven levels of hostility from rudeness, sarcasm, right through to yelling and screaming, physical harm and the highest level of hostility as hidden anger (or passive aggressive behavior including self harm). It is natural for people to react to a level of hostility by escalating to the next level.
It's only been in the last few years that I have recognized sarcasm and rudeness as low level hostility. Now I understand why that behavior makes me angry. It's because they are stealing some of my self esteem.

Rather than banning yelling and screaming all-together, our children must follow a pattern do deal with a disagreement:
1) Cross your arms to tell the person you are not happy
2) If you are angry, remove yourself from the situation
3) If the other person follows you then have your say three times then do something different.

According to my fitness coach, to make a behavior automatic, you need to repeat it 3000 times. So the children are told that they need to practice each of these 'something different' 3000 times each.
A) Make a joke. Make fun of the other person, diffuse the other person's hostility
B) Say back what the other person is saying. I don't mean 'parrot back' but repeat back what the other person is saying in your own words
C) Change the subject. Start talking about something else
D) Tell the other person what not to do and tell them what to do (eg "don't be nasty, be nice", or "back off! Calm down")

There are probably a lot more responses that could work as well. If the children learn these basic ones then they will probably discover more for themselves. Sometimes one of my sons tries to change the subject with me and I encourage him to keep trying but that one wont work with me!

When I grew up, I would always withdraw from an argument and not respond, so in a sense I did exactly what my parents taught me to do. But this had a sad side effect that I was never confident to stand up for myself and a tendency to go from nothing straight to passive-aggressive behavior. As a young adult I learned martial arts and also did a lot of work to develop my self confidence. While my children are also trained in martial arts, the use of physical force and self defense has limited application in respect of aggressive behavior.

These responses are still a work-in-progress for us. It's not an overnight fix. They have to practice to get it right. The big payoff is that I don't need to be in the middle of every situation diffusing the situation and handing out penalties. I'm giving them practical tools to sort it out for themselves.
About the Author
Glen Smith aka Glen The Goals Guy has been running goal setting courses for 13 years. Visit http://GlenTheGoalsGuy.com or
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