07 Oct Parenting Power Moves For the Argumentative Child or Teen
“How do I get my child to listen to me the first time I ask them to do something?” This is a question that I am asked regularly by frustrated parents. I feel a lot of compassion for said parents who are tired of spending their energy trying to get their children to do the same menial tasks. Have hope! I regularly teach parents how to manage their households and support and argumentative child. If Mom and Dad are willing to learn and utilize parenting strategies, they will pay dividends. This article was written to help families run their households more smoothly and with fewer fights.
I invite you to get curious about your household expectations. You know what you want your kids to do, but do they know what’s expected of them? Do they know the house rules? The after-school protocol? The weekend-chore grind? Successful teachers are able to run their classrooms well if they clearly lay out the classroom expectations, rules, and values, at the very start of the year. Similarly, parents set the tone of the household by doing something similar. When children know what is expected of them, they can’t play the innocent card. Consider calling a family meeting and invite your kids to participate in creating house values and share your expectations with them as well. Some examples can include: “saying I’m sorry if I have wronged my family member,” “using pleases and thank yous,” “completing homework/chores before screen time,” etc. Once you have established the baseline functioning expectations, you ought to set limits, to let your kids know that you mean business.
Set & Hold Limits
Children need boundaries. Living in this big and sometimes unsafe world, children find comfort in predictability, it’s a way we create safety for them. Children aren’t supposed to know how to set boundaries for themselves, so we model it for them, setting them up for a lifetime of learning, so that one day they will be able to set healthy boundaries for themselves. Do your children know what consequences they will face if they don’t meet their family’s expectations? The goal is to clearly outline what will happen if they do and/or do not meet their parent’s expectations. If they do XYZ, they earn a weekly allowance, if they do not do XYZ, privileges get taken away. If Mom and Dad don’t follow through on holding limits, don’t expect your kids to follow through on abiding by the limits. Remember, children need predictability. If they see that Mom and Dad hold the limit, they know Mom and Dad mean business. If, however, Mom and Dad waiver and are inconsistent in holding the limits, children will do what they do best – test the limits! Expect bigger melt downs, louder arguments, scarier tantrums from your argumentative child. When children don’t have predictability, they will push the limit as far as they can, to see what they can do to get Mom and Dad’s attention.
The Choice is Theirs!
This is the best part of setting boundaries! When children have an incentive that is worth working towards, even if it is externally motivated to start in the beginning, they will begin to make the tough choices. This only works when Mom and Dad consistently hold the boundaries, as noted in the last point. Kids like control. So let’s give them some. Is the neighbor boy ringing the doorbell to play with your son? Great! Remind your son that he can go outside to play if/as soon as his homework is finished – the choice is his! Watch your tone of voice here. Be hopeful and excited for this potential and exciting play opportunity. Did your son already complete his homework? Praise him for a job well done, this builds his confidence, gives him positive attention from you, and teaches him that his personal choices have consequences. Did he not yet complete his homework? No need to shame him, this shuts kids down and discourages them. Instead look at this as a great teaching opportunity so that next time your child can be prepared to go out and play by doing his work ahead of time. Encouraging words foster hope, and we’re in it for the long-game.
Practical Parenting Advice for your Argumentative Child:
So you know how to set expectations, hold limits, and provide positive-reinforcement. Here are a few other strategies to support you as you revamp your household dynamic.
Expect Things to get Worse Before they get Better
Don’t be distraught though! Change is hard at every age. Remember, kids are experts at testing limits. Hold onto those limit-setting tactics early on to set the tone. They are forced to adapt their behavior when they realize Mom and Dad aren’t wavering on theirs.
Use “Doing” Language
Instead of only telling your kid what not to do, tell them what to do. This gives them some choice and direction. See next point:
Give Them Choices
This gives them a sense of control. I suggest no more than two choices, we don’t need to overwhelm them.
Give Positive Attention
Children need and deserve our love and attention. Begin to praise them when they make positive choices, and don’t feed into their tantrums when they’re being argumentative.
If you stay cool, calm, and collected, you win. If you lose your temper or argue with your child, then your kid wins, because they’re getting your attention AND they’re getting it in a negative way.
Don’t Battle or Fight
Don’t be too wordy with your argumentative child. They are in fight or flight and can’t easily reason or comprehend too much in this state of mind. Example: I can see your having some big feelings right now, that’s just fine. Mom is happy to talk with you when you’re calm. You can use ABC or XYZ skill to support yourself (see how I offered them choices and didn’t shame them? I also helped them to label their emotion, I didn’t lose my cool, I set a limit,I didn’t give negative attention, and regulated myself!) See next point:
Validate Their Experience with the “3 Becauses”
This strategy helps your child self-regulate and helps avoid a full-fledged meltdown, AND they feel heard, understood, and validated. Using this strategy doesn’t mean that you agree with your child, but that you hear them. Ex: “I can understand why you’re angry because you were really looking forward to going to your friends house, and because you were looking forward to seeing several of your other friends there as well, and because they’ll be watching your favorite T.V. show that you’ve been waiting all week to watch.” You hold your limit but you validate as well. “Next time I know you’ll be able to complete your homework on time, and consequently enjoy an evening with friends on a school-night.”
You got this, Moms and Dads! Way to go for being open-minded to learning some new parenting tricks. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed still, feel free to reach out to one of our therapists who would be happy to work with you. We can support your efforts while simultaneously teaching your argumentative child to self-regulate so that they can support themselves.
Theresa is a Licensed Professional Counselor who earned her master’s degree from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Washington, DC. She has experience working in various levels of care including residential treatment, school, non-profit organization, and outpatient mental health settings. Theresa has clinical experience treating children, teens, adults, and families who struggle with PTSD, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-injurious behaviors, low self-esteem, defiant behavior, impulsivity issues, and psychosis. She emphasizes an integrative and collaborative approach to therapy depending on a client’s unique needs and goals. She utilizes evidenced-based treatments drawing from the Internal Family Systems Model, DBT, CBT, and Mindfulness-based therapies. Theresa believes that change occurs through a caring and trusting therapeutic relationship cultivated by empathy, respect, and understanding. Whether addressing daily life issues or more severe psychological concerns Theresa believes each one of her clients is capable of flourishing in his or her own life. She focuses on increasing self-awareness, facilitating personal growth, and fostering enrichment in relationships with her clients. In her free time Theresa enjoys riding her bike around Chicago, trying new restaurants with friends, and working in the garden.