Do you like argumentative people? Probably not; most of us don't. Some kinds of communications just naturally feel good to us - like when someone gives us a smile, delivers a compliment or agrees with us. Some kinds of communications feel naturally unpleasant - like when someone offers a criticism or issues a threat or disagrees with us. When we teach our kids to be pleasant communicators they will reap the benefits of a more successful social life and more satisfying interpersonal relationships. This is one reason why it is so important to teach children not to argue.
However, you may have noticed that some children are "born arguers." We joke that they will make excellent lawyers one day. However, at home, with those we love, peaceful communication strategies take priority. Indeed, in Jewish life, peace is a commodity of such great value that the Talmud urges us to flee from conflict as if we are fleeing from fire! We are further advised to actively pursue peace by every means at our disposal.
This is all fine in theory. It's the practical application that can be so challenging! The trouble begins when your child wants something that you don't want to let him have – a treat, a privilege or an experience of any kind. The child asks and you refuse - for whatever legitimate parental reason you have. However, few children march quietly off, thanking you for your consideration of their request. In fact, most will put up at least a little fuss: "Pleeeeeese? Just this once? I promise I'll never ask you again! Pleeeeeeeese?"If you reward your child by changing your mind after he has gone on and on for many minutes, hours or days, you are showing him that arguing pays off.
Non-arguers will usually leave it at that. The parent says "no" twice and that's the end of the conversation. Perhaps the disappointed youngster will become sulky for a while but he or she is able to let the conversation go. True arguers, on the other hand, do not let their parents off the hook so easily. Even after the parent has said "no" twice, the arguing youngster will persevere saying something in his own way that translates into: "Why not? I can address all of your concerns. Just give me a chance. Your thinking is mistaken. There really is no difficulty at all. Let me show you how my plan can work out for the best." This child has all the bases covered; he knocks down your defenses one by one. He has an answer for everything until, finally, in the end, when you are just plain worn down by the conversation, you agree to do it his way.
Unfortunately, if you reward the child by changing your mind after he has gone on and on for many minutes (or hours or days) you are only showing him that perseverance (read that as "arguing") pays off. The child learns that, while it may take some effort on his part, he can get his way if he is prepared to argue his case. The problem is that as he becomes more and more expert in getting what he wants, he is also becoming more and more expert in alienating people. Remember: your goal is to teach your child how to be a pleasant person, not how to get what he wants.
To this end, you can teach him the "I Don't Argue With You" Rule. It works like this:
- Your child makes a request
- You answer "yes" and that ends the conversation. Or, you answer "no" offering just a brief reason. End of Round One.
- Your child asks again.
- You say, "let me think about this" (for as long as you need to, considering the issue. Make sure you are comfortable with the answer you choose). Then you change your mind if you wish to (this is the ONLY place in the conversation that you can do this) and you now say "yes." Or, you reiterate, "No." You have the option of adding the phrase, "And that's the end of the conversation." End of Round Two and End of Your Part of the Conversation. Start doing something else.
- Your child continues to make new, interesting points building his argument for his side. Each sentence is a new Round. He follows you around, dramatically pleading his case. You do not respond to him.
If this routine happens every time your child makes a request, he or she will soon learn that you will give the matter serious attention and thought, come up with an answer, reflect upon it if necessary and THAT's IT. The child will learn that there is no point in harassing you further because it won't make any difference at all. You can leave the debates to interesting topics at the dinner table concerning political, social, religious and philosophical issues. There will be plenty of time for free speech! But your child will learn not to be argumentative when it comes to interpersonal communication. Your home (and your grownup child's home!) will be blessed with peace.