Written by Dr. James Dempsey
The development of thought and language in children fascinates me. Children take words literally because they are ‘concrete’ thinkers, and that makes for some humorous misinterpretations. Here’s an old joke that illustrates this: A high school senior runs out of his graduation ceremony and cries “I’m free! I’m free!” Unimpressed, the preschooler answers “So what, I’m four.” I remember a similar misunderstanding of my own as a child.
I was engaged in some sort of dispute with my older sister who was thirteen at the time. I was eight, but apparently my argument skills were advanced. In a fit of exasperation, my sister exclaimed “You’d argue with a fence post if it would argue back!” and stomped away. I remember saying in my concrete-thinking way, “Why would I argue with a fence post?” I was left with the picture in my mind of our backyard fence, with me talking to one of the posts. I had no clue what she meant.
I didn’t realize at the time that I had crossed a line with my sister. I had won a verbal battle, but lost the war. Whatever I wanted from my arguing, I didn’t get.
Arguing can be defined this way: Using logic and emotion to change
someone’s mind without considering how the intensity of the
discussion hurts the relationship.
The child who tends to argue will often start with “Why?” in order to find ammunition. Early on, you view it as a harmless question, and since you want the child to understand your reasons, you answer. The child responds with “But…” and now you’re both off and running. These kinds of discussions aren’t bad but some children use them as manipulative techniques to delay or disobey. Arguing can become an irritating habit, but even worse, it’s also a symptom of a heart problem.
Children who argue usually have good character qualities — persistence, perseverance, determination, creativity, and the ability to communicate their ideas. The problem with arguing is that the child views you as an obstacle, a mountain to tunnel through. The child who argues often lacks sensitivity, humility, and a proper respect for authority. Your challenge as a parent, or a teacher, is to encourage the positive qualities and discourage the negative.
When you sense that your child or student has crossed the line and is valuing their desire at the expense of the relationship, stop the dialogue. You might say, “Obey now, and I’ll explain more later.”
My sister simply walked away from her pig-headed little brother, and it worked. It takes two to argue but only one to stop. Remember: Winning an argument, even with good logic, isn’t the primary goal. You want to teach children to value relationship and communicate with honor.
Part of this tip was taken from chapter five in the book, “Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids” by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.