We’re brought up to believe that families are like the Waltons, however, the reality can be far from the truth. Arguments between parents and children typically occur through a lack of communication, empathy and mutual respect, but disputes do not have to turn into a full-blown argument, and it is important that you manage any disagreements before they do.
As your child grows up they are developing the communication skills that will stay with them throughout their life. If you react loudly and vocally each time a dispute occurs, you are teaching them that is how to win in arguments – that loud and aggressive communication is the way to get your point across. In the adult world, this approach to expressing opinion rarely has a good outcome, so why teach your children that this is the way?
One of the most wonderful pieces of parenting advice comes from the American writer and family counsellor Dorothy Law Nolte from a piece she wrote in 1954 for the Torrance Herald. Titled ‘Children Learn What They Live’.
Even if you take on board Nolte’s wise words for parenting, disputes happen as your child tests the boundaries and begins to challenge the status quo to establish their position in the pecking order of the household. However, there are things that you can do minimise the impact of any dispute or heated argument.
5 Ways to Downgrade an Argument into a Discussion
1. Pick Your Battles
Throughout the average day there will be numerous instances when you could call out on your child’s actions or behaviours, but to do so on all of them creates an antagonistic atmosphere. Although some actions should always be challenged, there will be some that don’t require any intervention – so relax about the inconsequential! If your child insists on wearing their old trainers rather than the newer pair that they have, let them. A blazing row can be avoided by not sweating the small stuff – if you over react to minor annoyances, when you have a valid reason to be cross, your expression will have lost its power.
2. Keep Calm
If you start discussing the issue with a highly emotive tone of voice or dismissive and angry with your child, they will immediately react in a hostile way – which adds fuel to the tension. If you can keep calm, you are more likely to be able to discuss the issues in a more productive way. Being measured in your responses not only keeps emotions in check, but it calms the atmosphere – it’s very hard to argue with someone who doesn’t argue back. Take deep breaths, count to five before replying or even go out for a walk to resume the discussion later when you have cleared your head and can think more logically and without such strong emotional response. Your patience will be tested, but it’s important that you don’t lose your temper – you are the adult after all!
3. Be concise
Children need clear communication. They often fail to comprehend the nuances of an adult’s argument, so use clear and concise statements. ‘You are so disrespectful when you don’t come in on time’ could be better explained as ‘I worry something as happened to you when you come home late’. The response to the second statement is more likely to be conciliatory: ‘Ok, I’ll call you if I’m going to be late’. Your child cannot argue about how you feel, but they will certainly be hostile if you say they are disrespecting you. Use language that doesn’t incite blame or accusations, but be specific and avoid generalisations such as ‘you always’ or ‘you never’. If you have realised that you were in the wrong, don’t be afraid to admit it and apologise – respect is a two-way street!
Listen to the other side of the argument. Arguments often escalate because of a misunderstanding about what the point of the argument is. If you don’t give your child time to articulate what their problem is, you may find that you are arguing different points. By giving your child the opportunity to air their grievance you may be able to identify flaws in their argument that you can talk through with them. If your child can see how you are giving them a platform to express their opinion, they should be more open to listening to your point of view in return.
5. Review & Conclude
Once you have reached the end of your newly framed discussion, spend time reviewing the main points – this does not mean that you need to keep going over old ground, but rather think of it as a conclusion, so that you both understand the positive outcomes of the discussion. These could be an understanding of each other’s perspective, the reason for the feelings and (hopefully) an agreement. If you are both clear about the boundaries that have been set and the reasons for them, you are less likely to need a repeat performance of the conversation.
Having a heated argument with your child can mean that you both say things that you regret. However, as the adult, it is important that you set the tone for the discussion - so you keep your emotions and reactions in check. It takes practice and patience!
Is there anything missing from this list of tips to downgrade an argument? Let me know if you have any advice that can further help to minimise family conflict.