Why You Can't Really "Win" an Argument with Your Child
Why does arguing with your child give him power? When you engage in fights with your child, over time he will begin to believe that he is your peer and that he has the power to challenge you. This is a loaded situation because your child doesn't realize that this empowerment he's feeling isn't real. The more powerful he thinks he is (and the more the defiant behavior gets him what he wants) the more he will use fighting as a way to solve his problems.
It's so important to learn how to manage this type of behavior in your kids. I know this isn't easy-in fact, it's probably one of the most difficult things you have to learn as a parent. The lesson here is, "How can I let my child mature and individuate with the least amount of fights possible?" Remember, the goal here is for your child to learn how to be responsible, communicate well with others, and develop problem-solving skills.
Let me be clear: there is a difference between a disagreement and a habitual pattern of arguing with your child. You want to teach your kids appropriate ways to communicate a disagreement. Knowing how to express disagreements in an effective way is an important life skill. Generally, it's best to talk about things you don't agree on when both of you are calm. Your child should learn how to state his or her point of view in a respectful way (without name-calling or being rude). Listening is also a critical skill here, because you want to be able to hear what the other person has to say without negating them or becoming defensive. In the end, you may not change your mind, but at least each side has spoken and been heard.
As a parent, I understand how easy it is to get into fights with your child. Power struggles can occur over issues large and small, from getting your child to clean her room to arguing over homework and curfew times. Something James and I always said to parents was, "You don't have to attend every fight you're invited to." That means that you don't have to get sucked into an argument every time your child wants to have one.
An important thing to realize is that you can't really "win" a fight with your child. When an argument escalates, hurtful things are often said, people become reactive, and there is a likelihood of continued miscommunication-and when that happens, nobody wins. When you get into argumentative patterns with your kids, you will simply end up losing ground. Your child will stop listening to your rules, because he'll know that if he argues with you, there's a chance you'll give in. After all, one of the main reasons kids continue to fight with their parents is because they know they might be able to wear us down and get us to change our minds.
My trigger was coming home from work and seeing my teen age son lounging in the living room eating potato chips-usually leaving a mess. It would push my buttons and we would get into it immediately. I really had to work at not getting angry, giving myself a break, and giving myself some down time after work. I would go up to my room, change, and decompress from my day. When I was calm, I could talk to my son about cleaning up in a reasonable way without blowing up.
Know that when you get into patterns of arguing, it makes it difficult to respond thoughtfully to your kids. You fall into a trap, so to speak, when a morning fight becomes a habit in your household. It's a bit like having quicksand in your living room; you keep getting sucked into it every day, even though you know it's there!
I understand that parental stresses in our lives can really make us feel out of whack. Sometimes we just don't know other ways of coping, so we lose the ability to effectively communicate. Unfortunately if we do the same thing over and over, we're going to keep getting the same results because nothing's going to change.
How does it happen?
What's the sequence of events that often leads to the argument?
Are there trigger words, trigger requests, or trigger times of day for you?
Instead, you can simply say, "We've talked about what's going to happen. I don't want to discuss it anymore," and then leave the room. When you leave, you take all the power with you, and your child will be left yelling at the wall.
by Janet Lehman, M.S.W.
Janet has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years.