It is completely normal for kids to argue with their parents, and I’d argue that it’s even healthy for them to learn to respectfully push back against authority figures. But it’s also annoying as heck! Some kids just push those boundaries way too far.
When you’re trying to figure out how to deal with an argumentative child, you’ll learn that it’s an opportunity for kids to learn to communicate in a healthy way. Some adults still aren’t great at setting healthy boundaries for themselves, so it should come as no surprise that kids need to be taught this life skill.
Need some help managing big feelings in your house? Here’s a whole post about setting up a calm down corner at home. Plus freebies!
I think this is a critical first step if you’re having trouble with an argumentative child.
Some kids are respectful, good at honoring boundaries, and otherwise give their parents and teachers no trouble. They just can’t resist engaging in a lively discussion and believe that with the right choice of words, they can win. Up to a point, this isn’t a problem. In fact, will serve them well in life.
When these kids engage in an argument, they will eventually back down from the argument when the adult draws a hard line in the sand or threatens with a consequence. After all, the child knows the parent means business and will retreat to avoid receiving a loss of privileges.
These types of kids are pretty easy to deal with, using the steps below.
But the kids who are more generally disrespectful, who also have problems with honoring boundaries and breaking rules in other areas of life, will require a bit more work on your part. That’s outside the scope of this blog post.
Here’s how I created an inspiring and fun kids’ home library – and it stays tidy, too!
Disengage from the argument- but explain what you’re doing.
If your child is continuing to argue with you after you’ve clearly stated your expectations or request, it’s time to pull back from the conversation.
However, there’s a huge difference between stonewalling and setting a personal boundary, and it’s helpful for kids to learn the difference.
For example, let’s say you just asked your child to tidy their bedroom for the day. This is a non-negotiable, they know the expectations, and you’ve already discussed why it’s important to you.
Here’s how the conversation might go:
Mom: You still haven’t cleaned your room. Please get it done.
Child: No! I don’t want to! It doesn’t even matter.
Mom: It matters to me, and I’ve politely asked you to clean it up several times. Get started, please.
Child: I’m not doing it.
Mom: If you want to (insert preferred activity, such as t.v. or games), you’ll have to tidy up first.
Child: You don’t even love me! I’m not doing it!
Mom: I do love you, and I think you know that. However, I won’t argue about this anymore, so I’m going to leave now so you can either think or get to work. [Exit room]
Teach kids about intentionally pursuing peace in all their relationships.
Kids who are naturally argumentative sometimes need to be reminded that it’s often more important to be peaceful than to be right.
Of course, there are limitations to this philosophy. Everyone should learn to stand up for truth and justice. But honestly, many things that kids argue about (and adults) aren’t half as important as the relationships in their lives.
My oldest daughter, a first grader, is like this. If she thinks she’s right about something trivial and someone else is wrong, she’ll argue endlessly until the other person either relents or gets angry.
She has sometimes gotten into the minivan after school and complained that no one wanted to play with her on the playground. When I ask her about her conversations, she’ll admit that she got into arguments with other kids about what they should play. She was unwilling to be flexible or take turns, and instead wasted half of recess arguing about what would be more fun to play together.
She will have the same sorts of conversations about whose turn it is to clean up after dinner.
When your kid is naturally wired for “lively discussion,” it can be helpful to teach them that their friendships and the health of their family relationships is more important than being right every single time.
Model respectful discussion in the home to show kids how to argue well.
This is a hard truth to bear for some of us, but kids learn best by modeling. If the adults in your home are argumentative and you don’t always communicate fairly with your significant other, your children will learn bad habits, too.
Model respectful discussion at home. Practice conflict resolution statements within earshot of your kids, even when you’re not speaking directly to them. Here are some examples:
Tell me more – I want to understand. (listening skills)
How can I make it better? (empathy)
I can’t give you what you want, but I think I understand how you feel. What about this instead? (empathy, compromise)
I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we try talking about this before bed tonight? I really want some time to think by myself. (respectful boundary setting)
Apply consequences when your child doesn’t respect your communication boundaries.
Set a communication boundary for your child to let them know you’re ending the conversation. If you’re wondering how to deal with an argumentative child, the best way is to just NOT for any length of time. You could also tell them you’re taking a break from the conversation, if you’re willing to postpone it and think privately about the matter.
If your child refuses to honor that boundary, consider issuing a consequence.
Instead of framing this as a punishment for arguing, talk about it from the perspective of not respecting another person’s boundaries.
For example, you might say something like this:
“I told you I wasn’t willing to talk about this again until I’ve had some time to think. We said we would revisit it at 8:00 pm tomorrow. We will discuss it then as planned, but in the meantime, I’m taking away your t.v. privileges for disrespecting my boundary.”
If you warn a child or teenager that there will be consequences for disrespecting a boundary, and then you fail to follow through, you are inviting further disrespect.
Here are 12 scripture verses to help kids with their behavior at home.
Distinguish for children between disrespectful arguing and polite discussion.
Disrespectful arguing with a child often sounds like whining, begging, and bickering. It usually involves a parent setting a limit that the child pushes back against. For example, “No, you may not have any more candy today, because you’ve been having tummy problems,” or “That’s enough screen time for today; I’d like you to do something more creative with your mind.”
When a child asks, “Why?” to a question that hasn’t been answered yet, try to avoid answering “because I said so.” Your child will respond much better and push back less against a gentle, thoughtful explanation.
It’s also wise to have lively discussions with teenagers who are trying to understand the rules of the world around them. If you disagree about current events, politics, or religion, that’s an opportunity to practice respectful discourse that will serve them well in college and the workplace. Learning these skills is an incredibly useful tool, and many adults don’t even know how to do it well.
If you’ve been stressed out, trying to figure out how to deal with an argumentative child, you’re certainly not alone. Kids love to argue, whether they are 4 or 18. While the approach you take may differ slightly according to age, the principals of setting boundaries and remaining calm and respectful stay the same.