The Argumentative Child
Do you have an argumentative child? Do you give them a reasonable instruction and immediately you’re met with Why? It doesn’t take long before you start to feel triggered every time you’re about to give them an instruction.
But what if your child is not being argumentative out of disrespect or defiance? What if there was another reason or purpose behind the argumentative behaviour?
The Creative Thinker
Creative Thinkers see the world in a different way. Their minds are geared to notice detail, because most often that’s where the beauty and potential is found. This makes it difficult to see the big picture without knowing the details, and leads to that annoying question – WHY?
Most of us understand and can have patience to the first 50 questions of Why? in a day, when our child is 4. But over time, and especially as the child grows older, it can wear the most patient of parents down.
There are several reasons for the Why?
For the Creative Child the Why? comes from their focus. They’re too busy focusing on whatever’s captured their attention to reason with the consequences.
Why can’t I dig in the garden? It feels so good!
Why do I have to come in for a shower now? It’s still daylight and I want to play.
The focus isn’t always obvious. Why do I have to tidy my room? It’s just going to get messy again? sounds like laziness, but it could be about priorities. Your priority might be to have a tidy room because you know you’re going to have tears down the track when your child/teen can’t find that favorite toy or item of clothing, or their bed is lumpy. However, your child/teen is more focused on what’s important to them at that moment, they haven’t thought that far ahead.
Which leads us to the next point –
- The Need for Meaning
The need for meaning and purpose is what makes us human. However, for Creatives the need for meaning and purpose is not just relegated to the big questions about life, it begins in the small, everyday moments, of their everyday life. There are so many important and meaningful things to be expending brain energy upon, following rules and instructions for no other reason than the sake of it, is not worth the energy.
It’s not defiance or obstinance, it’s just a different perspective about what’s important in life. This ‘Why?’ is simply a request for more information.
Why do I have to have my shower now? Why can’t I do it after dinner?
Why do we have to wash the dishes? They’re just going to get dirty again.
Why do I have to go to bed earlier just because I’m the younger one? It’s not fair!
If you can provide a good reason, your child will be more likely to comply. This applies to household chores as well. There are things that we all do in the home which contribute to the smooth running of the home because we all live there. We generally don’t get paid for those things. And then there are extra chores, like pulling weeds or washing the car. These are things your child might do to earn extra pocket money.
- The Negotiator
If your child wants to know what’s in it for them before they’ll agree to completing extra tasks around the house, they may simply be negotiating. Negotiation is an important life lesson that we need to be teaching our kids, to protect them from exploitation.
Many years ago, I was working at a childcare centre. Due to my qualifications and experience, I had a set wage which had been negotiated by the Union. However, at the time there was no set wage for an unqualified junior, so the owners of the centre entered into an enterprise bargaining agreement with these young employees. This led to some of them being paid less than the others, even though they were all doing the same job. Because these teens didn’t have the skills or confidence to negotiate better terms, they were taken advantage of.
If your child wants to know what a task is worth, ask them what they’d like, counter offer lower than what you think it’s worth, and hopefully they’ll meet you somewhere in the middle. They may not, but that’s OK. After your child completes the task, explain that you would’ve given more, if they had negotiated. This is a safe place for them to learn this important life skill.
- Creating Change
Just like we need Negotiators in our world, we also need Changemakers.
For the Creative Thinker, asking Why does it have to be done that way? is not an attack on your wisdom or a challenge to your authority. It’s a simple Why this way? In other words, Is there a better way? How can I do this in a better way?
The child who asks Why? was born to be a Changemaker. We need Changemakers. We need people with the courage to ask Why? Because Why? leads to How? and How? leads to change.
The kind of change that brought us the telephone, and then our mobile phone, and now the smart phone.
The kind of change that invented the wheel, which changed the way we moved from one point to the other and over time has continued to give us new and improved methods of transport.
The kind of change that leads to a change of culture and societal norms, such as the abolition of slavery, the right for women to vote and work, the right to an education etc.
How To Deal With An Argumentative Child or Teen
Understanding that your child is not being disrespectful is the first step in learning how to deal with an argumentative child or teen. The need for meaning and purpose can look like What’s in it for me? But it’s more than that. It’s about what’s important to you, what’s important to them, and their place in the world.
Just this one simple change of perception can change the way you respond to your argumentative child, which in turn will change the way your child responds to you.
These kids, especially during the teen years when they’re tasked with working through their own values and identity, will challenge you at every turn if they think you’re being mean, unreasonable, unfair, or judgmental. Because to them, how you perceive the world and how you perceive others, looks like judgment and they worry that you will judge them in the same way. And the last thing your child needs while they’re busy trying to work out life, is to feel that they’re not accepted 100%.
When our kids ask Why? They need a meaningful answer. I told you so! is not good enough. In fact, it can be damaging and threatens to quash the creative child’s understanding of their place in the world.
Every time we give our children a brief explanation or answer which is meaningful and provides them with a good reason why, we are helping our kids to develop an internal locus of self control. This is when we do something because it’s the right thing to do, not simply because it’s expected of us or because we want to avoid punishment.
This in turn leads to better decision-making skills as your child matures, which is going to come in very helpful when they’re faced with peer pressure or a potentially unsafe situation. In Protective Behaviours we call this ‘Risking on Purpose’. By identifying a good reason to engage in or refuse to engage in an activity, we help our children to make wise choices.
Yes, there are going to be times where it’s not appropriate to give an explanation, and yes, it’s reasonable to expect that our kids should trust and respect us, and that we shouldn’t have to explain every little instruction. However, trust and respect are built through relationship and consistency. When our children regularly receive respectful, meaningful responses to their Why? we are modelling trust and respect to them. This leads to them being more likely to comply when we can’t or don’t have time to give an answer.
In our next instalment we will be further exploring tips for managing and redirecting off-track behaviour. In the meantime, you can also find out more about our parent workshops here.
This is part 2 of our 4-part series on Parenting the Creative Thinker. You can read part 1 here