When Kids Argue, Parents Need This Response

You’re trying to get something done or redirect your child and somehow it turns into an argument. Arguing increases tension and is a form of resistance. Children who choose to argue often have a serious problem. Here’s how to face it head on.

Move from the Issue to the Process

Too many times parents continue to talk about the dirty shirt or the amount of time on the iPad or cleaning up the mess. That’s the issue. The process is how the child and the parent are treating each other. When you redirect the conversation from the issue to the process, you’re getting to the heart of the problem and teaching children some valuable lessons.

Arguing crosses the line. It values the issue over relationship. It has a lot of faces. Sometimes it’s the use of logic. Other times it’s simply asking the question “Why?” Other times it’s a tendency to come up with a better idea of when to do the task or how to do it differently or even delegate it to someone else.

God tells us in his Word that Honor is to be learned in the home. Honor values relationships over one’s personal agenda. Children need training and when parents focus on teaching honor, children change the way they relate.

Manipulation Often Starts with the Question “Why?”

The child who has a tendency to argue will often start with “Why?” in order to find ammunition. You, of course, view it as a harmless question, and since you have the answer on the tip of your tongue you graciously give it. The child responds with “But…” and now you’re both off and running. These kinds of discussions aren’t bad (in fact they can occasionally be helpful), but some children use them as a way of getting out of following instructions or to try to get something that you’ve already said no to. Arguing can become an irritating habit, but it’s also a symptom of a heart problem.

Some parents try to talk their children into following instructions or have discussions to help them want to obey. These children sometimes can’t follow a simple instruction without a dialogue and grow up to make poor team members, difficult employees, and demanding friends.

These parents think they’re doing a good thing. “After all,” they say, “isn’t it good to dialogue with your kids?” The answer is “Yes, most of the time.” However, there are some times in family life where dialogue is counterproductive. When children use the dialogue to delay obedience or try to wear you down in order to get a no answer changed to a yes, then you have a problem.

Some Words to Use

When you move to the process you change the words you say. You might say, “What you’re doing right now is increasing tension and it’s not right. You need to accept my answer.”  Or, “When you argue like that I feel like you’re poking me over and over again. It’s not good for our relationship.”

If you have a child who has developed a significant problem of arguing, you might want to use a technique called, “Obey first and then talk about it.” This technique simply reverses the sequence of two important elements, discussion and responsiveness. Children must first respond to your instruction and then you’ll discuss the reasons for it.

Some parents who see a need for their children to give, not just take, require obedience by saying, “Because I’m the parent, that’s why.” Although these parents may have a handle on the problem, their authoritarian approach is inadequate because it focuses the solution on the parent instead of the child. Instead, help children to see that the problem is theirs because they are mishandling dialogue. A child may need a period of time where following instructions comes before the discussion to foster the ability to give up one’s agenda without always having to get something out of it.

When Amanda is asked to get on her pajamas and responds with, “But I’m not tired,” Mom may say, “Amanda, you need to obey first and then we’ll talk about it.” After Amanda obeys, then a discussion about bedtime may take place. It’s surprising, though, how many children don’t feel the need for a discussion afterwards. Dialogue for them was simply an attempt to delay cooperation.

The Good and the Bad

Children who argue have good character qualities like persistence, perseverance, determination, creativity, and an ability to communicate their ideas. That’s why some parents excuse their kids and even admire their arguing by saying, “He’s probably going to be a lawyer someday.”

The problem with arguing is that your child views you as an obstacle, a mountain to tunnel through. The child who argues often lacks sensitivity, humility, and a proper respect for authority. Your challenge as a parent is to encourage the positive qualities and remove the negative ones.

When you sense that your child has crossed the line and is valuing the issue at the expense of the relationship, stop the dialogue. Refuse to argue. It takes two to argue, but only one to stop. You can stop the process from continuing on into unhelpful territory. Remember that good logic isn’t the only consideration. You are also teaching your child to value relationship and learn to communicate with honor.

One of the reasons that arguing is dangerous to a relationship is that it sets the parties at odds. When children argue with their parents the relationship is at stake. Most parents feel uncomfortable with arguments, but they don’t know why or what to do about it. The child who wants to argue puts the parent in an awkward position. The child takes on the role of attacker and the parent then becomes the defender. This relating pattern sets the two up as opponents instead of partners.

It has to do with Relationship

The difference between an argument and a discussion has to do with relationship. When the issue becomes more important than the people debating it, the discussion has turned into an argument. The best way to teach or even discuss a problem is with you and your child on the same side of the net. Instead of allowing issues to come between you, look for ways to make the issue the opponent and you and your child partners in solving it.

Don’t go to the other extreme and remove all dialogue. Sometimes an argument can move into a discussion with a little adjusting on your part. If you believe a discussion is helpful in a given situation you might move away from an argument mode by asking, “What are you hearing me say?” or saying, “Let’s both try to think of advantages and disadvantages of you watching a video tonight.”

With these kinds of statements, you refuse to become an opponent and continue to look for areas of cooperation. The discussion then gives you an opportunity to teach problem-solving skills and good decision-making techniques.

Paul the apostle gave young Timothy advice about how to lead God’s family, the church. In 2 Timothy 2:23 he said, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” That’s not only good advice for the church. It’s great advice for the family as well. Quarrels or fights in family life often start with simple arguments.

Honor changes the way children operate. This book shows you how to teach it.

One of the problems is that parents don’t realize they’re arguing until they’re well into the discussion. That’s okay.

The point you realize that you are in an argument is the point where you’ll want to take action. Use the discomfort you feel as your signal that it’s time for you to make a change. Refusing to argue is just one way to teach your child the importance of honor. For more ideas about improving relationships and teaching honor in your family, consider our book “Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids.” Now available as an audiobook! Click here to learn more about the Audiobook. With all of the fun stories in the book, you might even want to listen to it with your children. Honor changes people and brings a blessing into a home.


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