DON'T BITE THE BAIT!
I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. You know, when your child tries to lure you in with a “But Mom!” or a “What if I don’t want to?” comment.
Most children will do whatever it takes to try to dethrone you & pull you down to their emotional level. When we're not careful, we forget our adult ways & start acting like children ourselves.
LET YOUR KID HAVE THE LAST WORD
“What? Let my child have the final word?”
“But I'm the one in charge!”
Sometimes we don't realize that when we argue with our children, not only do we look foolish, but we diminish our authority as well. Think about it. When's the last time you saw a CEO arguing with a janitor or The President of The United States debating with a hostile antagonist on the street? Leaders maintain their authority by listening when appropriate, succinctly saying what needs to be said & then moving on in a timely manner.
Here's an example:
You peek your head into your child’s doorway & cheerfully say, “It's time to clean
your room.” And you get the classic response, “BUT MOM!”
At that moment, you have a choice. Do you react to the "But Mom!" or do you move on & assume that your child is going to make a good decision?
If your kids are frequently referring to you as if your 1st name is ‘But,’ then that obviously needs to be addressed. I’m not recommending ignoring that behavior indefinitely, but timing is everything. Sometimes it's worth waiting to address behavioral issues until everyone is calm, especially if the child seems to be hoping for a fight.
DON’T WAIT FOR A RESPONSE WHEN ONE ISN’T NEEDED
As in the above scenario, how the parent presents the command is vitally important. Choose your wording, tone & body language carefully.
Saying, “I need you to clean your room” is different than saying, “It’s time to clean your room.” The 1st command leaves more room for arguing than the 2nd.
If your tone of voice is serious, then you might inadvertently convey that you’re anticipating resistance. Plus, misusing your tone of voice to express gravity may backfire by painting a daunting picture of the task at hand.
Also keep in mind that lingering at the doorway & waiting for a response may give your child an extra opportunity to rebel. Our body language can portray the message that we're waiting for them to argue. But if you say your child’s name, make eye contact, briefly express your expectations & then immediately move on, you convey the powerful message that you expect compliance.
DON'T ANSWER EVERY QUESTION YOUR CHILD ASKS
We’re not obligated as parents to give an answer to every question. Getting into debates is often avoidable. Let's be kind & polite parents & answer appropriate questions but also recognize that we’re doing our kids a disservice when we engage them in arguments. When the intention of a question is to undermine our authority, then an answer is usually not needed. And if our child is being defiant & knows the answer to his/her question, then we need to be careful how we react.
Imagine you tell your child that it's time to do something & he/she pulls out the other famous line, "What if I don't do what you say?"
Our natural instincts are usually to bow up & show them who's boss. You might be tempted to quickly respond with fighting words & an aggressive, authoritarian come-back. Or you may feel obligated to tell them exactly what will happen to them if they disobey. But what if you responded with a simple "Hmm" & calmly walked away?
Walking away can be an effective technique to communicate that we trust & expect the child to do what's right. It diffuses the situation & gives him/her a chance to regroup, save face & hopefully make the right choice. We need to provide opportunities for our kids' consciences to kick-in. If we utilize silence & leave their comments as the last words floating in the air, our kids are stuck with having to feel & think about what they just said. But if we stand there & engage them in battle, then they’ll keep fighting to try to prove their power. We’re the powerful ones when we don't get sucked-in to childish ways.
For those of us with children who are particularly strong-willed & gifted debaters, it’s easy to get bamboozled by their persuasive & manipulative methods. The self-control of restraining ourselves from arguing back-and-forth actually reinforces our position of authority. The one who is most self-controlled is most qualified to be in charge.
It's okay to let the conversation end with them arguing. Let them be the ones making fools of themselves. Don't let them pull you down to their level of social skills. It's our job to model healthy conflict resolution. It's appropriate in relationships to sometimes say, "I choose not to argue."