For many parents, every conversation with their kids seems to turn into an argument. The parents I have worked with get completely frustrated and then don’t know how to make it stop. Whether it’s during a difficult time (like adolescence) or over several years, arguing can seem like the only form of communication that parents and kids have.
As parents, we are often so busy just trying to keep our families going. We’re working, worrying, and generally living stressful lives. And when we’re stressed, we typically rely on patterns of behavior: doing the same thing over and over, even when we know it’s not working. And no surprise, nothing changes.
If you argue frequently or constantly with your child, here are five things NOT to do.
We can’t stop doing something until we understand it and are able to observe it. Sometimes it’s easiest to see the pattern in others, like the mother and daughter at the mall arguing over which jeans to buy, getting angry at each other and leaving the store barely speaking for the rest of the day. Or your friend and their child who seem to argue over each and every chore, no matter how big or how small.
Have you seen this pattern in your own relationship with your child? You ask her to do the dishes and she refuses, arguing that it’s not her job. You insist it is. By then, you’ve had it and scream at her. She screams back, swearing. You send her to her room after yelling about everything else she’s done wrong that week.
The key is to recognize the patterns. Pay attention to when it happens, how it happens, what started it, and how it escalates. All of this information will be helpful when you begin to change the behavior and make it stop.
Kids are always learning how to get by in the world—and finding out how to get what they want. From the baby who cries when he’s hungry, to the three-year-old who keeps tugging on your leg to get your attention, to the adolescent who argues over everything. These are all behaviors that meet needs.
But, your baby eventually learns to talk to let you know he’s hungry. Your three-year-old learns to get your attention without tugging on you. And your teen can learn better ways to communicate without arguing. It just takes work and learning new ways to relate.
Because parent-child arguments can’t happen without the parents, you need to want to change in order to help your kids change. You have to be open to changing your side of the argument and finding a better way to communicate. Nothing happens miraculously or without work on your part, but you can take steps to make change happen.
You may need some help: from your partner, your child’s teacher, a guidance counselor, a trusted friend or another parenting support. It’s not easy to figure out a new way of relating to your child. Seeking help is often the first step to making this important change.
Related content: 5 Secrets for Communicating with Teenagers
We all want to be good parents. When we’re pregnant, we dream about how we’d like to relate to our children. With the reality of everyday life, that dream can get lost. All of us can lose sight of our priorities, but we can also regain our perspective and get back on track.
As with all relationships, it takes some work. We need to get past some of our small difficulties and keep our goals and priorities in mind.
For example, doing the dishes isn’t the priority, but being able to set limits and hold kids accountable is. Remembering the priority will help us remember the role we want to play with our kids. It’s important to establish the kind of relationship you want with your child. There are different, more effective parenting roles that can help you get there.
Related content: 5 Ways to Stop a Screaming Match with Your Child or Teen
As parents, we often fail to set limits before things get out of hand. We don’t plan ahead and don’t have a strategy to deal with misbehavior. As a result, before we know it, we’re back in that arguing pattern.
It doesn’t matter who we are, how smart we are, or how well we do in other parts of our lives—we can all be pulled into arguments. For this reason, it’s crucial that we stop arguments before they flare up. We need to plan our strategy to not be pulled in. It could be that we think through what we’ll say and how we’ll say it before we speak. Or, we plan not to say anything at all rather than becoming the other half of the argument.
Once you begin to change your way of relating to your child by reinforcing your limits without screaming and arguing, your child won’t automatically respond. In fact, they may try to escalate the situation and pull you back into the screaming and arguing behavior in order to get their way and avoid consequences.
If your arguing pattern has gone on for a long time, your child may be very sophisticated in his ability to pull you into an argument. This is what he knows and how he’s gotten his way in the past. Don’t be surprised by this. But do plan ahead to hold firm with your non-arguing response.
When we get into these struggles, it’s so hard to stop. We feel helpless and hopeless about arguing all the time. Even when arguing has become so ingrained in your relationship with your child, there is hope.
When I worked in residential treatment programs, I worked with some of the most difficult kids and family situations. Some situations were so bad that these kids could no longer live at home. With time, help from trained staff, and willingness and motivation to change, these kids and families learned to have better lives together. It’s a miraculous thing when this happens, when even the most alienated parents and kids work together to create a loving, caring, respectful relationship.
It’s important not to get discouraged. You are not alone. There are many parents working on this same thing, and their lives are changing for the better. Yours can, too. There are steps you can take to have a healthier relationship with your child, and you’re starting to take those steps just by looking for information. With time, some effort, and faith in yourself and your ability to become a more empowered parent, you will be able to change and develop a more effective way to communicate with your child.
Related Content: How to Walk Away From a Fight With Your Child
How to Stop Arguing With Your Child: 9 Steps to Take Today
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.
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I have read your article and have found some of it helpful.
Right now I am just so frustrated nothing seems to be penetrating.
I have a step son that gas just can to live with me and my husband he is 17 and a huge undertaking. I am honestly about to just give up. I have only a year to try to teach him respect and taking responsibly for his actions. I hope someone can give me some help unfortunately his father overlooks many of the things he does and says trying to fix things by covering them up with humor.
I am praying for some help.
It can be so frustrating when life feels like one big
argument with your teen. It sounds like you are able to recognize some of
the common patterns in your power struggles with your son, and know when an
argument is about to erupt. As Janet notes in the article above, being
aware of your interactions is the first step toward changing them. In
addition, you are going to have the most control over your own actions and
responses, so that might be a helpful area to target for change. If you
know that responding to your son is going to start a fight between you, you can
plan to act differently. For example, you could give a noncommittal
response, schedule a later time to talk about it, or choose not to respond at
all in that moment. Ultimately, if you choose not to engage in a power
struggle, the argument cannot exist. Debbie Pincus offers more advice in
her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/how-to-stop-fighting-with-your-child-do-you-feel-like-the-enemy.php Please
let us know if you have any additional questions; take care.
I am sorry you are struggling
with this. Challenging or questioning what you are doing or saying is actually
pretty common behavior at your son’s age. It is a normal part of development to
resist you and test limits, especially as kids get into their teenage years.
While you have no control over your son’s response, you do have control over
yours. The best way to avoid escalating a situation is to set a limit with your
son like, “don’t talk to me like that, I don’t like it” or “how you are talking
to me is disrespectful. If you don’t stop, I am going to walk away.” At that
point you would want to stop the conversation and walk away if your son
continues. By doing this consistently, over time your son will learn that
treating you that way is not going to work for him. It will not solve his
problem to blame you or treat you disrespectfully. Thank you for writing in and
good luck as you continue to work through this.
I'm recently married, only one year in. My wife has 2 kids, the oldest is 15,and the youngest is 13,and special needs. Admittedly the transition has not been easy on them, they moved from their home in England into my home in the united states, and left allot of family and friends behind.
I'm still learning how to be a father, and a husband, while trying to best serve teach and protect my new family. Even with all of these chalenges,the boys are well adjusted, with good healthy relationships at school,and a healthy home life.
The main issue that I've been running into is the escalation of fights. My eldest and youngest will start to argue, mostly about sibling stufstuff,but it escalates quickly into a violent place. Worse yet, my wife will get involved, and the argument turns more dangerous. Things get thrown and broken, my eldest and his mom do not fight fair to each other. When I'm home, everything is good,the arguments only happen when I'm at work. Unfortunately,I'm expected to pick up the peices.i need to repair my wife's relationship with her son, and then manage the 2 boys with eachother,before fixing my wife and my owns relationship. Her solution is to send the eldest back to england with family, which I am staunchly against, as it seems tome that would have lasting consequences. What can I do?
What a tough situation. I’m glad you are reaching out for
help. It sounds like the biggest concerns are the relationship your wife has
with her children and how that affects their interactions. I can hear how much
you want to help them through this. They are very lucky to have you in their
lives. Truth be told, only your wife and her sons can determine what type of
relationship they have. It would be best to talk with a family counselor about
this issue. A counselor would be able to work directly with your wife and stepchildren on improving their interactions. The 211
Helpline would be able to give you information on resources in your community,
such as family counselors. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling
1-800-273-6222. You can also find them online at http://www.211.org/.
The best of luck to you and your family moving forward. Take care.
What a tough situation to be in as a mom and an aunt. I can
hear how much you want to help your sister deal with the behaviors she is
seeing from her son. It’s also understandable you would be concerned about any
negative influence your nephew’s behavior may have on your young son. It can be
helpful to recognize that much of the behavior you are seeing from your nephew
is normal for kids his age. Kids want what everyone else has and will badger
their parents in an attempt to get what they want. It’s up to the parent to set
firm limits and boundaries and to stick to them, even in the face of extreme
pushback. Of course, that can be a lot easier said than done, especially when a
child’s friends have so many privileges. Every parent wants their child to fit
in and may feel a lot of guilt around making choices that might impact their
child’s ability to be part of a group. Debbie Pincus offers some suggestions you could share with your sister in the article Anger, Guilt and Spending on Kids: 8 Questions to Ask Before Buying Anything. It’s
going to be important to continue taking any threats of self harm seriously by
contacting your local crisis response whenever your nephew makes those
statements. As far as the influence your nephew may have on your son, it can be
helpful to know that we are all influenced everyday by forces outside of
ourselves. By focusing on helping your young son develop the skills to deal
with frustration effectively while also holding him accountable for his own
behaviors, you will be doing what you can do to combat any undue influence his
cousin may have on him. You may find our articles on parenting young children helpful in that
regard. You can find a list of those articles here: Younger Children. Best of luck to you and your family. Take care.
Ask her personally to tell you her mainly cares
She must becupset with her life if she is slamming ng doors at home by an Angel at church or school.
It can be very worrisome when a child uses running a way to
solve problems she is facing at home. It’s going to be helpful to come up with
a plan that can be implemented when your stepdaughter leaves home without
permission. This could include calling the police or taking other steps to keep
her safe. You may find it helpful to speak with someone at the http://www.1800runaway.org/ at
1-800-786-2929 about what options may be workable for your situation. It’s also
going to be a good idea to continue focusing on the expectations within the
household and your family values. Granted, this may not deter your stepdaughter
from making the choices she is making. It will at least let her know what the
standards and expectations are to begin with and also let her know she will
have to face consequences and be held accountable for her actions. For more
information on steps you can take to help your stepdaughter and family through
this tough situation, you may want to check out James Lehman’s article Does Your Child Have Toxic Friends? How to Deal with the Wrong Crowd.
I know this is a distressing time. Good luck to you and your family moving
forward. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
The behaviors you describe are ones we hear about often, so you
are not alone. It is frustrating when you feel like you are doing everything
you can to change your child’s behavior but nothing seems to be working.
A couple of suggestions that you may want to try is, first, allowing the
school to handle the discipline piece of your son’s behavior and then, focusing
on setting limits, coaching and problem solving with your son at home. As James
Lehman said, “You can’t punish kids into better behavior.” Doubling up on
consequences at home for behavior the school has already implemented
consequences for can actually lead to more resistance and acting out behavior,
which it sounds like is happening in your situation. As Sara Bean describes in
her article How to Give Kids Consequences That Work,
it is best to concentrate on helping your son to develop replacement behaviors
at school when he feels like his teachers are not respecting him or he thinks
something is unfair. Doing this will help your son to develop the skills to
cope with challenging situations and keep him out of trouble. Thank you for
writing in. Please check back in with us if you have any other questions. Take
You bring up a challenging situation. It’s not uncommon for a
child who lacks appropriate problem solving skills to use running away or
avoidance as a way to cope with the fallout from an argument. It can be tough
to know exactly how to respond when a child leaves the home during an argument.
There are many different factors to consider when deciding how best to respond,
such as the age of the child, the time of day it happens, specific laws that
may be in place in your jurisdiction, among other considerations. It can be
helpful to contact your local police and talk with someone there about possible
things you can do when your child responds this way. You might also consider
contacting the http://www.1800runaway.org/ at 1-800-786-2929 for recommendations. Having a plan of
action will be helpful when you sit down with your son to talk about the choice
he made. After you problem solve with him what he could do differently the next
time he’s tempted to take off during an argument, you can then let him know
what the consequence will be if he makes the choice again. For example, you
might let him know that if he leaves the house without permission again during
an argument, you will call the police and report him as a runaway. Truthfully,
the consequence isn’t as important in this situation as taking steps to help
your son develop more effective ways of coping with anger and frustration. You
might want to check out this article by Sara Bean for more information on ways
you can help your son learn how to solve problems more effectively: http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php. We hope this information is useful. Be sure to check
back if you have any further questions. Take care.
You ask a great question. Often, the best way to avoid an
argument is by not getting into one in the first place. In the above example, when
the child tries to argue about not being able to go to the concert,the parent might say something like “I’ve
already given you my answer” and then walk away. James Lehman discusses this
technique further in his article http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Stop-Your-Kids-Backtalk.php. Keep in mind, when you stay
in an argument with your child about something that has already been decided,
you’re actually reinforcing the idea you might change your mind if he argues
long enough or loud enough. This is true even if you have always stuck by what
you have set as a limit. Part of being a teen is pushing back against limits.
As irritating as this may be for parents, it is a normal part of adolescent
development. I hope this information is useful for your situation. Be sure to
check back if you have any further questions. Take care.
Mom in need of help
You bring up a common problem a parent might encounter when
trying to disengage from a power struggle, how do you walk away from an
argument when your child follows you. It can be helpful to recognize what the
purpose of walking away
is, namely stopping the interaction. There are going to be times where walking
away isn’t an option, such as when you are out in public or if your are busy
doing something you can’t walk away from. In these situations, you disengage by
ceasing communication. I understand this may be much easier said than done and
it may mean a bit of patience and determination on your part. Having a handy
mantra you can repeat to yourself or even putting on headphones and listening
to music while she works through her emotional outburst can be effective ways
of dealing with the behavior in the moment. Debbie Pincus has some other
suggestion you might try in her article How to Keep Calm and Guide Your Child to Better Behavior This Year. Once things
calm down, you can then http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php with your daughter about possible coping skills she can use the next
time she gets upset. You could also hold her accountable with a task oriented
consequence if the behavior warranted it. For more information on both problem
solving and task oriented consequences, you may want to check out this article How to Give Kids Consequences That Work. I hope this helps to
answer your question. Be sure to check back if you have any other concerns.
Still trying DeniseR_ParentalSupport
You ask a great question: how do you motivate a child who seems
to not be motivated by anything. In actuality, everyone is motivated by
something. It’s just that some kids are more motivated by doing nothing than
they are by any reward or incentive. James Lehman discusses this in his article
http://www.empoweringparents.com/child-motivation.php. In these situations, you
want to be mindful you’re not stacking consequences or taking privileges away
for extended periods of time. It can also be helpful to focus on one area at a
time, like homework or chores. You can then link one privilege, such as computer
time or cell phone use, to her completing that specific task. Another thing to
keep in mind is some kids are motivated by the power struggle that can ensue
when they refuse to do what’s being asked of them. Too often, we get into a
virtual tug of war with our kids when they refuse to do something, with us on
one end trying to make them comply, and them on the other, refusing to follow
through. In these situations, it’s usually more effective to give the direction
once and then walk away. If she does what you ask her to do, she earns the
privilege. If she doesn’t, then she wouldn’t earn the privilege that day. These
are just a couple of possible techniques you can try. We have several other
articles that give suggestions you may find helpful for your specific
situation. One in particular you may find helpful is Unmotivated Child? 6 Ways to Get Your Child Going. We
appreciate you writing in and wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take