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Are You Arguing With Your Child?

Aug 17, 2007
"Defiant Child?" trumpets the half-page ad in my weekend newspaper'vs magazine section, offering help to change your kid's attitude and take back control of your family.

I had a defiant child once. I overheard her having a telephone conversation with her best friend. It went something like this: "When they say 'no', you should say 'why not?' When they tell you, you should say, 'that's not a good reason.'"

Many parents believe that the best way to teach children to be successful is to teach them to obey. Anything less than that is seen as a serious problem, and leads to taking steps to control such a "defiant child." The child gets angry and either escalates the fight or caves in to the control and the anger goes underground.

Other parents feel completely helpless in the face of a child's opposition. These parents are the ones who cave in after making only a half-hearted, ineffective stab at controlling their rebellious youngster. These kids keep pushing, secretly hoping for the relief of boundaries to keep them safe, while vehemently protesting any attempt to impose limits on their behavior.

I had been leaning in the over-control direction until I learned a better way. My daughter's anger had turned into sweetly agreeing to do whatever she was told to do and then doing absolutely nothing about keeping her agreement. And driving me crazy!

The important secret I learned was to teach her how to argue with me. The telephone conversation was her simply passing this information along to her friend (in a somewhat modified form). Fortunately, we all survived and she now has children of her own.

What too few parents realize is that all healthy school-age children are sometimes rebellious and oppositional - for a very important developmental reason. They need to learn to think for themselves in order to learn to take responsibility for themselves as they mature.

Believe it or not, arguing is the best method to learn thinking skills. No, not repeating the same "Why not?" "Because I said so!" scenario. You need to model explaining the reasons for your position and help your child explain the reasons why she or he wants a different outcome.

This can be a challenge for a mom or dad who avoids confrontation or negotiation because s/he has never had the opportunity to learn or practice this kind of argument. You can learn, though: just expand the directions my daughter was giving to her friend.

Instead of insisting that your child follow your rule without thinking about it, help him or her to understand why you think the rule is important. LISTEN to your child's counter-argument. Ask questions about it. Take time to talk about it. Imagine possible outcomes by asking "What if" questions.

Be willing to change your position if your child's argument is convincing, and if health and/or safety aren't at risk. And be willing to take a stand and insist that your child do it your way if you still feel strongly about it.

The process of having the argument is more important than the outcome.

Helping kids learn this skill before they reach adolescence increases the odds that they'll think about what their friends are pressuring them to do. When they practice thinking about the outcome of their choices now, they are better prepared to make healthy decisions for themselves later.
About the Author
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., is a Master Certified Coach, relationship expert, parenting consultant and author. Claim your complimentary relationship building tips at BeingHappyBook.com
Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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