Badgering, Whining, and Arguing: Just Say No
Saying no to a child’s request can be one of the most difficult of all parenting responsibilities. You may wonder if you’re being too strict, or you may second-guess your decision because your child seems so upset. The process of saying no is complicated by a child’s ability to use a host of manipulative techniques to get you to change your mind.
Children may not even realize that they’re being manipulative. They view themselves as pursuing a goal. In fact, many parents mistake demandingness in their child for the good quality of perseverance. One mom told us, “I like it that my son keeps coming back to me. He’s persistent.”
Crossing the Line
Unfortunately, many children don’t know when they’ve crossed the line from persistence to demandingness. That line is crossed when children value their issue as more important than the relationship. When a child yells at a parent or says unkind things because he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s crossed the line.
Parents who use simple behavior modification in their approach to demandingness often use distraction to help children change their minds. As a discipline strategy, distraction offers something equally or more attractive to the child to motivate the release of the original request. This approach often works and can even be a good part of a parenting routine, but if it’s the only response then children start evaluating options based on their desires instead of learning how to accept no as an answer.
Sometimes parents who overuse distraction as a parenting strategy end up with children who continually want to play “Let’s Make a Deal” or the whole experience feels like negotiating with a terrorist. The reality is that sometimes children need to accept no as an answer because the answer is no. It’s the ability to live within limits. Contentment is a godly quality and it’s taught at home.
What Demandingness Looks Like
A child’s demandingness has many forms. Badgering, arguing, whining, dramatics, the silent treatment, and passive resistance can all be ways to change a parent’s mind using inappropriate tactics.
Sometimes badgering is simply an attempt to gain attention and lots of it: question after question after question. Some children seem to have the strategy down to a science. But parents can be just as determined. One mom tried so hard to resist her son’s badgering that he finally threw his hands up in frustration and said, “Mom, you can be so stubborn.”
Any parent who has a child who badgers feels the unending tension in the relationship. Parents may want to hide, or even look for ways to avoid their son or daughter. Some parents say that they cringe when they see the child coming into the room with those eyes of determination. The tension in the relationship has become a real irritation.
Raise the Awareness Level
If you have a child who doesn’t know when to quit, you’ll first need to point it out so that your child becomes more aware of the problem. You might say, “Son, we’re back in the badgering routine here. I want you to stop now and not ask me for anything else for the next hour. We can continue to talk and be together but no more permission questions for awhile.”
Sometimes older children will ask questions or make statements to try to convince you to bend rules. One favorite questions is, “What’s wrong with it?” A young person may come to Dad and ask to go hang out at the mall, or at a friend’s house after school, or attend a party on Friday night. What’s wrong with those things? Nothing necessarily. The wise parent knows, however, that it’s often in those situations that bad things begin, but the child just can’t see it. It doesn’t seem reasonable.
It takes a pretty committed parent to stick to a no answer in a questionable situation and many fail. “Well, I guess you could go to that party, and hang out after school at your boyfriend’s house” and… pretty soon things happen that change the course of the child’s life.
“What’s wrong with it?” is a question that misses the point. It’s like creating a soup. We’re not just throwing things into a pot. We don’t say, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with this dirt. It’s actually clean dirt so we’ll throw it into the soup.” Rather, we hand pick the ingredients to make the soup nutritious.
Manipulation Damages Relationship
Don’t allow your children to convince you to make changes you know aren’t in their best interest. Furthermore, don’t let them use manipulation to get what they want. Patterns of manipulation over time damage relationships. Many adults are manipulative. It’s time to address this dangerous area now in children before it develops into life-long patterns.
Being able to accept no as an answer is a spiritual skill all people need to learn. A lot of temptation is out there and children need to learn to say no to themselves in order to stay within appropriate boundaries. Salvation provides a framework for us to know what to say no to. Titus 2:11-12 shares these helpful words, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Sometimes as a parent you have to take the difficult road of saying ‘no’ because you know what damage a ‘yes’ might do. Furthermore, your hard work now will provide your children with needed character as they get older.
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SharPosted at 01:21h, 19 July
Good points but they’re overshadowed by the use of the made-up word “demandingness.” That’s just such bad grammar. It detracts from an otherwise decent article. Couldn’t the word challenging or dishonoring be used in its place? The bottom line for me is that the child is challenging a parent’s authority. Instead of accepting the no, the child is trying to override or rebel against the parent’s position of authority. Rather than submit to the parents decision, the child is demanding his own way.
scott turanskyPosted at 07:31h, 19 July
Thanks Shar for your comments. I do like the words challenging and dishonoring. Those are also helpful words. I prefer demandingness because of its focus on the controlling aspect in a child’s heart. I would suggest that it’s more than just challenging a parent’s authority. That’s the outward action that comes from something inside the heart of a child when the child is overly attached to their own rights, desires, or emotions. You’re right that the child must learn to submit and that will help develop a softer heart, more flexible and responsive to life’s situations. merriam-webster.com says that demandingness is a noun.
KristyPosted at 09:32h, 19 July
This was a great article, Scott. You continue to encourage us as parents! You hit the nail on the head with “demandingness.” Part of our job as Godly parents is not only to teach obedience (although surely that’s important) but to help a child slowly blossom into a healthy, well-functioning adult. Learning the art of respectful negotiation and advocacy (for self and others) is an important adult skill. Teaching our kids, boys and girls alike, to have a “voice”—and to use it with wisdom, respect, and discernment—is a critical life skill we must give them. And helping children to recognize and prevent demandingness and manipulation is absolutely necessary to balance these skills! Shutting down a child voice under the guise of “complete obedience” is not the goal. Rather, teaching them to navigate the dicey waters of communication and to learn how to get their needs met while also maintaining healthy relationships and respecting authority is what we are really striving for. No easy task!! THANK YOU for helping to flesh this out. Again, wonderful article—and for someone to get lost in the minutiae of grammar merely indicates that they missed the bigger narrative that you are communicating. (Besides the fact that your grammar was not incorrect!) Please keep up your ministry to us parents in the trenches—we need it!!
scott turanskyPosted at 10:16h, 19 July
Thanks Kristy, we all agree that kids develop these internal problems that need to be addressed. That’s why the heart-based approach is so much more effective. Parents look deeper and it produces more significant results.
LaceyPosted at 17:15h, 31 July
I’m a bit delayed in reading this, but God knew the exact timing I needed to receive this information, and He delivered grace and wisdom through your ministry once again! I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this article and for Kristy’s response above. My 8yo daughter has mastered negotiation, badgering, appealing the verdict, manipulating, questioning, and every other detestable tactic known to humankind, and this summer I have found myself doing just as you said: feeling my stomach churn when she enters the room, or avoiding her. I’ve noticed myself becoming increasingly snappy in response to her, which ends up with her crying, me feeling tremendous shame, and us BOTH missing the teachable moment. A terrible cycle!
“Demandingness” is the correct word through and through, and as a “words person,” I identify with it entirely and would choose no other term to describe what is ultimately unacceptable behavior stemming from an ungodly heart condition. As an empath who comes from a background of receiving shame-based parenting and emotional abuse, I have struggled to find the balance in my parenting among setting healthy boundaries, cultivating honoring attitudes and behaviors, and allowing my daughters to use their voices to respectfully assert themselves as they develop a needed strong sense of self. (This is another issue altogether, and it’s especially rampant in the Church: Christian girls and women are often misled to believe they must have NO voice, or they must ALWAYS agree with men/their husbands, or they are displeasing to God. This, I’ve learned the hard way, is a recipe for destructive covert emotional abuse and other forms of abuse that grieve the heart of God far more than me appropriately using my voice as a woman.)
Thank you so much, Dr. Turansky, for decades of helpful, life-giving instruction for those of us who, sadly, have a very cracked foundation. God is redeeming lives for generations to come through your work!
JFPosted at 10:51h, 25 October
This lesson alone helped to dramatically change the course of the direction of my relationship with my oldest son. He has a sleep disorder, and was diagnosed at 4 with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD with little to no Impulse Control and hyperactivity. He was also very intelligent. It seemed there was no end to his badgering and it got to the point where I never wanted him to open his mouth. I loved my son, but his approach to ‘handling’ other people to get what he wanted was clear and awful, and frequently violent. Applying this one strategy, and supporting it with loving encouragement, special time spent together, firm boundaries with clear, unemotional correction, words of appreciation, and opportunities to grow and explore the better parts of himself in safe environments really brought out the beauty in my son. He is well-liked, a joy to be around, generally loving and kind, creative, and impressively self-aware. We have had to make many more steps on the journey, but nothing worked until I applied this one principle. When I explained the difference between demandingness and perseverance, and pointed out each time he chose that route and the hurt it caused me or others in our family, his heart changed, bc he realized he was damaging our relationship. It was the first inkling I’d ever seen that he valued our relationship at all. I am grateful for the clarity and thoroughness of this post, and for the wisdom shared in it. It has helped to change our family’s chaos into real enjoyment of each other!
scott turanskyPosted at 17:08h, 25 October
Thank you Lacey and JF for your kind comments. You are both truly in the trenches. I call it being “in the thick of it.” It’s not easy to be there and I hope the work we do helps you in the midst of the struggle. We work with challenging situations in families every day. It’s not easy. Keep encouraging us and other parents who are trying to do what is very hard.