Yeah, I know. That headline makes it sound too easy. I’m not implying that within this post lies the magic secret to perfect peace with your children. Conflict is normal and not every conflictual conversation is an argument. I’m keeping this really simple not because it’s easy to do, but because it is difficult. Emotions can run strong when you and your child start to argue. It’s so easy to get sucked in, so I want you to have a simple concept to keep you focused.
Here’s an example of a typical argument-starter you might encounter:
“Jeff, it’s time to get ready for bed.”
“What? That isn’t fair! Why did she get to stay up so late?”
OK, what’s your next move? It could look something like this:
“She just finished getting ready, and I had to help her with her clean sheets. C’mon, get to it now.”
“But I can’t fall asleep now, I’m not even tired. I just want to stay up for this one TV show.”
Where is this going? Is it moving in the direction you want? Probably not at this point.
Let’s take a look at what’s happened already. You gave a direction to Jeff to get ready for bed. He knows exactly what’s involved, so there’s no misunderstanding going on. He’s simply resisting because he doesn’t want to go to bed or stop what he’s doing. He may as well have just said, “No” in plain English.
But he has thrown in a twist – the distracting comment along with a question. He is baiting you, hoping he can persist and outlast your patience. That’s the basic approach, so knowing that can help you. You are going to want to present a logical approach, they are going for endurance. Once your emotions get dragged in, you’ll start to lose your edge and become exhausted. Guess who is likely to win that race? Your kid in many cases.
The moment you get drawn into the argument, your child has the power position. You are going where they want you to go. If you need them to comply with you, you’ll need to take a different approach that keeps you in better control.
Shut your ears to the actual words and listen to their persistent tone and resistance to your directions. That’s where you need to take action. Instead of answering the question “Why did she stay up so late?”, you can calmly repeat your direction. If your child still doesn’t reply, present a potential consequence for not following your authority. You stay focused on their non-compliance and you don’t give them the leverage they are hoping for. The pressure is on them to decide between compliance or resistance.
This is difficult – I’m not going to sugar-coat it at all. Staying cool under the pressure of a persistent kid is a tough job. But this strategy can help you keep control of the situation and prevent an exhausting argument. You might offer to talk about the problem at another time when you are both able to stay calm.
If this thought process helps you stop just one argument in its tracks, then you have a good tool for making positive change. Readers, please share your experiences with changing argument patterns with your children. What has helped or made things worse?