Teaching Kids To Argue With Purpose

Conversations with parents often include frustration about kids arguing. I have also experienced these feelings of irritation when hearing my own children fight, and I came to an important realization: It’s not the actual conflict that makes parents crazy, it’s the absence of purpose to the fighting.

It seems that children are born ready to fight, but they lack the skills to fight well. Teaching your kids how to argue with purpose provides them with valuable skills when it comes to relationships and conflict resolution, and leads to greater peace in your home.

Words Matter

I decided to teach my kids to argue with purpose when they were little, and my first lesson involved the importance of words.

When my oldest child was a toddler, I requested that he pick up the toys off the floor and put them in the toy box.

“No,” he said stubbornly.

“Don’t say ‘no’ to me,” I said automatically, regretting the response immediately.

First, my response didn’t make sense – my kids are going to need to say no to me in the course of everyday life. Second, I want my kids to be able to articulate their needs, wants and feelings in clear ways. This wasn’t going to happen if I was willing to shut down my toddler as he was trying to communicate his feelings.

Acknowledge Feelings

I’m not saying that just because my toddler told me “no” when I asked him to clean up toys excused him from completing the chore. I looked at his “no” as an opportunity to provide choices and discuss consequences.

For example, instead of saying “Don’t say no to me,” the conversation could have gone something like this:

“Please put those two toys in the toy box.”

“No,” said my toddler stubbornly.

“I hear that you said no. You can pick up the toys now or have a time out.”

After careful consideration, my oldest would usually pick up the toys while my youngest would probably need the time out. Each child is different and will mostly like react differently to the limits you set, and that’s okay. Your child’s feelings will be acknowledged, and the lesson of choices versus consequences will play out naturally.

The Value of Questions

As kids grow older, conflicts get more complicated and, in many cases, louder. Children can easily get stuck trying to figure out their feelings and the reasons for them.

It’s good to let kids work situations out when possible, but sometimes the conflict spins out of control. It becomes clear that your kids won’t reach an agreement without some help.

When I need to step in, I have found that using questions helps those in conflict hear each other. The ground rules are that each person talks one at a time, and there is absolutely no interrupting from the other person. The questions I ask may include:

  • Who was involved?
  • What happened? (These need to be facts only)
  • How do you feel about it?

If my kids are having problems identifying their feelings, this framework usually helps:

When you_________________________________
I feel __________________________________

Then, have each person say what the other person was feeling and why, and they will usually come up with a solution together. Although I helped them work it out, I didn’t come up with the solution to the conflict.

Wanting Without Whining

Kids whine. As a parent, I want to reduce the amount of whining that goes on in my house. The following strategies help my kids formulate their thoughts and express their feelings without whining.

  • Pose Questions – When your child starts whining about something, stop and pose a question. A good one to start with is What do you want? Move on to Why do you want it? A great follow-up is Why do you think you should have it?

These kinds of questions help children learn to reason internally without whining, which can lead to skillful persuasive argument.

  • Peruse the Options – Kids don’t naturally think about the consequences of their actions. If there’s something they want – like going to the movies – but the chores haven’t been done, have them figure out the options. First, they can do chores quickly and then go to the movies as soon as possible. They can forget the movies and take all day to do the chores. They can go to the movies now and finish the chores by a certain time later in the day. You’ll have to help them decide which option works for everyone.
  • Pros and Cons – when a more important decision needs to be made, take some time to delve into the process of reasoning. Involve your kids in figuring out different options to solve the problem, and then list the pros and cons for each option. This will use real-life decisions to teach your children how to make educated, well-informed decisions.

Teaching kids how to argue provides them with reasoning and critical thinking skills that they’ll use throughout their lives. Use these formative childhood years to strengthen their conflict resolution skills and promote peace in your home.

Kelly Wilson is an editor with Teaching Resource Center, a Teacher Store providing teachers and classrooms with high-quality Teacher Supplies at bargain prices.

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