(adapted from originally published chapter)
Arg!! Why can’t I get my kid to stop arguing with me? Why must they challenge every simple request?? I have heard this lament many times (Wait – I think it was out of my own mouth!) What does an arguing kid represent? That they don’t respect our authority? That they don’t like our rules? That they want power and choice? That they feel we are dictators of their freedom and choice? And how can I prepare them to handle authority figures in life if they are always arguing with every rule and guideline?? Perhaps. But what if we viewed it from a different lens? What could possibly be going right when my child has to argue over every single request I present? Is there another way to explore the value of an arguing child?
Imagine for a second a child who completed every task you requested, who never made an excuse or whined about fairness and balance, who never pushed back or challenged your ideas and goals? At first, that sounds like a pretty lovely picture. Ah, peace. No more battles. Easy street. Now, imagine that child as a teen working with a dogmatic teacher, fearful to challenge an idea presented in her social justice class. Imagine that complacent child in her first relationship, not asking for what she needs, setting her own limits or boundaries. Imagine that child as an adult employee lacking the confidence to assert her ideas or beliefs. Or as a parent, unwilling to set boundaries there! Yes, it is a leap, I know. But an arguing child is one who IS assertive, sees herself as powerful, is willing to challenge ideas, a deeper thinker and strong negotiator. An arguing child is one who analyzes ideas, who works to go beyond status quo, to understand and push you to an alternative perspective. An arguing child believes in their own potential, takes risks and is a creative thinker. To me this seems like a much preferred alternative to a “Yes, ma’am” in a world with bullies and targets.
That said, how we then respond to the argument remains critical. While we can take this paradigm shift in our vision of our arguing child, we know that our rules and guidelines exist purposefully to build capacity in our children: To be a part of a family, take responsibility, and develop skills which carry them into their future. Ahem: Don’t bother to explain this concept to your arguing child in the middle of the battle zone. But DO choose to remain calm, name the qualities of greatness being demonstrated by their resistance (persistence, intelligence, assertiveness, high-level thinking), and remain firm. If your rules are sound, then there is no need to explain them ONCE MORE. No need to justify your logic – nor belittle his/her. Remain calm, clear, and consistent. Because your child CAN handle it – and so can you.
When you feel yourself heading down the slippery slope of anger, defensiveness, frustration : Step away. You are taking their resistance to your rule personally. Your job, as I have often said, is to set boundaries. Their job is to test them. And look: You are both doing your job. Way to go!
“Yes, I know it is challenging.” (Acknowledge feelings) “I know you can figure it out how to get it done.” (Empowerment and capability) “You always impress me with your deep analysis and ability to push through even when you are frustrated.” (Naming capacity but being genuine!) And then (this is critical): WALK AWAY. Once both parent and child are calmer, it is easy to restate the above once more. Lectures on why you have rules is really energy to the wrong person (Rules about YOU versus energy about YOUR CHILD’S ABILITY to be responsible, handle challenges, problem-solve, be a team player, etc.). Your child is honored for what it takes to follow a difficult boundary and you remain positive (or at least neutral), with no energy to the argument – only to the qualities of greatness in your creative, persistent ‘debater.’ I think that alone is worth the ARGUMENT.