by Kerry Hart, LLMFT
Do you ever find yourself in the most frustrating argument of all time, look down and realize your opponent is seven years old? How does this happen? Even the wise parents get caught in these irrelevant arguments. At the end of the day, you as the adult have the final say, but that kind of rational does not materialize until you realize you can’t argue with someone who is convinced macaroni and cheese three times a day is healthy for you because the commercial on television states there is plenty of calcium and vitamin D!
“If you fly off the handle, call them names, and throw hands like some unsuccessful soccer goalie, you are teaching your child to do the same”
Remember, everything you do is setting an example for your child. When your child learns how to argue, they are learning from you, their first example of an interpersonal relationship. If you fly off the handle, call them names, and throw hands like some unsuccessful soccer goalie, you are teaching your child to do the same. Once they enter other arguments with people outside of your household, they will repeat your behaviors. As the parent, you are the most important person in your child’s life. Whether they like you or not at that moment, they are still looking up to you and learning from your behavior. Keep this in mind as you find yourself engaging in an argument with your child.
As your child starts to navigate the world around them, they will try to see how far they can push you and your limits. Be sure to reclaim your power as the adult. State clearly that you are their parent and, therefore, get to make the rules. Understand this may cause push back, and that is ok. Your child should express their feelings on the matter; however, just because they are mad, sad, or frustrated does not entitle them to treat others disrespectfully. Should you receive some push back from this initial power stance, be sure to repeat this sentiment clearly and patiently.
If you realize at some point your child may have a valid stance or maybe you overreacted to something without knowing all the necessary information, it can be difficult to back down. Nothing diffuses an argument quite like an apology. The act of apologizing when you feel you did wrong will teach your children positive humility when it comes to arguing. They will see that they do not need to argue a point regardless of its validity. Admitting you are wrong will not only save you from a painful back and forth with your kid, but it will set a fine example for future interactions.
I often find that children are more than capable of coming up with solutions if given the chance to think critically. When you find yourself in an argument with your child, regardless of their age, give them the chance to figure out what the basis of the argument is. Diffuse the situation by asking them how they would go about solving this problem. Let’s say for the one-thousandth time your child cannot find their shoes or there is laundry all over the bedroom floor on a consistent basis. Whenever behaviors repeat and turn into a pattern, this creates an opportunity for you to create some structure in your child’s life. Put your heads together and come up with some creative ideas to solve these repeated issues. Maybe you create a mudroom by the front door where all shoes must go upon entering the house, never letting lost shoes become a possibility. Encourage them to clean up by creating a laundry system in your child’s room that is color coded or has a basketball net hanging above to add a little fun to the mix. Create an opportunity so your child can not fail. You will boost their confidence and save yourself from a frustrating interaction.
When you do find yourself caught in an argument with your child, make your goal resolution. Slow down, find your patience and ask your child to think critically about the interaction at hand. The fact is, as parents we talk too much. I find that if children are given the opportunity, they will talk. You may be surprised by how chatty your kids can be, as often they simply want to be heard. Asking open ended questions and quietly waiting for answers has proven to be a sure way to figure out what is going on with them. Imagine your children having an honest moment with you where they can express themselves and how they are feeling. If things get too heated, with say an older child, take a break from the argument. Take some space, evaluate what was said, and then come back together to have an honest conversation. Teach your kids well, get creative and give them a chance to impress you, or even themselves.
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a family therapist located within Grand Rapids Natural Health. She specializes in the treatment of children, teens, couples, and families.