Coaching The Argumentative Child

Author: Dr Steven Richfield

Among the many frustrations of parenthood one ranks among the top: the chronic arguing child. It takes so little for them to express an opposing opinion or to debate issues that seem so petty to other family members. Attempts to curtail disagreements seldom work but tend to fan the flames of their ire. This argumentative nature tries the patience of parents and siblings, sparking family conflict and perpetuation of the problem. At times, the child stops only when the level of tension has reached such a feverish pitch that parental screaming ensues.

If this antagonistic environment describes events at your home due to an “arguer in residence” read these coaching tips to nurture peace and compromise in your family:

Don’t be lulled into denying the need for attention to this problem. Many parents resist directly approaching this problem due to the child’s reactive nature. It’s easier to understate the issue and reassure oneself with the euphemism that “our child is a future lawyer.” Family life will take on a subtle type of “arguer enabling” wherein parents too often give in to the arguer’s demands or script life in favor of the child. This only serves to make the problem worse and reinforces the child’s narrow w view that imposing their will is acceptable to the outside world. When others do not tolerate their disagreeableness, the arguing child tends to collapse in tears or tirades, creating more problems.

Addressing the problem starts with a substantive discussion during a peaceful point in time. Your child deserves to understand how their arguing sets them up for troubles within the world, and how it is your responsibility to help them outgrow this habit. Compare the arguing habit to rough edges that need to be smoothed out in their approach to other points of view. Explain how giving in and going along with others, in the interest of getting along, is a vital skill to learn in life. Compare the arguing habit to other unpleasant habits that people need to be aware of and let go. Suggest that the issues they argue about can be divided into the meaningless, meaningful and the ambiguous area in between the two categories. Try to engage them in placing past arguments into one of the three categories.

Consider what fuels their argumentativeness. Chronic arguers engage in their habit for specific reasons. Hidden behind their belligerence is often a deep seated insecurity about what can happen within relationships. Their “argue first and talk about it later” approach to people may grew out of sensitivity to criticism, unwillingness to surrender control to others, or the need to blame others for life’s disappointments. The arguing child carries the burden of these insecurities and covers them up with an antagonistic approach. To successfully help your child emerge from the chronic arguing trap it is important to determine what is fueling the problem.

Carefully identify the source of the problem and offer a way out. If you have established sufficient safety and trust your child may be willing to discuss what is truly below the arguing surface. Help them see how the bottom issues feed emotion to the top reactions, setting the stage for their offensive approach. Give them the words to express how they feel about lowering the arguing barrier to let their true feelings be expressed. Stress words like “hurt feelings, worries about what can happen, trouble accepting anything that doesn‘t seem fair, etc.”

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA  He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills building program called Parent Coaching Cards now in use in thousands of homes and schools throughout the world. His book, “The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today’s Society,” is available through Sopris West (sopriswest.com or 1-800-547-6747) He can be contacted at director@parentcoachcards.com or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit www.parentcoachcards.com

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