Let’s be honest – before we had children, we all had this idea of how they’d be perfect angels. And of course, not one of those ideas included you getting into daily arguments with your child. Never did you anticipate that asking your child to do something as simple as brushing their teeth could devolve into World War 3. Parent-child arguments are one of the biggest causes of stress for both you and your child, and often sets the tone of your relationship with your child in the future.
Strong-willed children are great!
Take heart, having a strong-willed child may seem like a lot of work – but with the right kind of nurturing they turn out to be grounded, not swayed by peer pressure and possess great leadership skills. Strong-willed children don’t accept the status quo and want to try things out for themselves. That’s why they are constantly testing their boundaries by questioning you. So how can you set boundaries for your child without coming off as authoritarian? How can an argument with your child turn into a life lesson that they take to heart?
Common argumentative fallacies
When we argue, we let emotions get the better of us – that’s natural. Everything about our children tends to make us emotional. But when we want to make our point, let’s watch out for and steer clear of these common fallacies:
Attacking the person, rather and the idea
Often, when we’re asking our children to do something, it sounds like we’re finding faults. Let’s identify the behaviour that we have an issue with, rather than the person. For example, if you walk into your child’s room and it looks like a bomb went off in there, instead of saying ‘You’re always so messy’, we could try, ‘This room looks quite messy, how about you tidy it up a bit?’. Not calling the child messy, or disobedient, or lazy, but calling out the act, or behaviour will help you get your message across, without it becoming an argument because your child doesn’t feel like it’s a personal attack!
Exaggerating the problem and attacking it
We’ve all been guilty of it. ‘You’re on the screen forever!’ ‘You never want to eat what I make.’ ‘You’re always playing, you need to be serious about your exams.’ Well, that’s not really true, is it? Children need you to break down the issue to a more immediate timeline. So if screen time is an issue today, or now, just state that ‘You’ve been playing for a long time on the screen today. I think that’s enough.’
Building improbable consequences to a small action
Let’s not kid ourselves – not eating vegetables for a meal is not going to give us debilitating conditions. Not doing the homework today is not going to make your child drop out of university. So we stick to the facts when stating our point – ‘If you’re going to continue not doing your homework, chances are, you’re not going to be prepared when they test you on this. That’s not what we want, is it?’ This stop is from becoming an argument where your child fails to see the point of what you’re asking them to do.
The either-or situation
‘You’re not sharing your chocolate with your brother. Do you not love him?’ This tells the child that there are only two options – either love my brother and share or hate my brother and not share. But in reality, she may love her brother very dearly, but just not want to share. Just, ‘I would like it very much if you shared that with your brother.’ is enough. If she’s still unwilling to share, maybe explaining how sharing helps strengthen bonds.
Because I said so
Sometimes we do tire of arguing with our pint-sized humans and resort to this. And yes, as adults, we would know more and are able to judge a situation better. But that’s why it is important to explain to them why your viewpoint isn’t just because you’re the adult, and they are the children. Back it up with rationale – it’s also a great way to build the logical reasoning of your child.
What you can say so the children listen
- Acknowledge their feelings: Children like us will have their own likes and dislikes. It’s okay to occasionally indulge in fantasies with them. ‘You really don’t like this daal, huh? I wish we would eat ice cream for every meal, and still be super-healthy! *sigh*’ (you might like to read: What is Journaling and how can it help? )
- Engage cooperation: give factual information, without exaggeration ‘We need to brush our teeth because…’, rather than ‘All our teeth will fall out and the dentist will drill painful holes!’
- Express your feelings without attacking your child’s character: ‘I felt really upset when you said that’ or ‘It makes me really sad to see both of you fighting’.
- Explain the consequences: Every action will have consequences. Calmly explaining the consequences, and following through on them, without anger or annoyance will help your child understand boundaries. ‘If you keep running over your tv time, we will have to reduce it by 10 minutes tomorrow. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.’
- Sit with your child and figure out a solution together: If you’re unhappy with a situation, it’s fairly certain that your child isn’t too thrilled either. Sit together and jot down all the ideas you can come up with (yes, even the silly ones) and decide the best way forward together.
Your child will feel empowered to take control of their actions, especially if they know that they have your love. Even though you may disagree, you can air your differences, talk through your problems and figure out a way together. These skills of negotiation, reasoning and emotional intelligence will build on their ability to navigate the world confidently as adults with you as their role models for conflict resolution.