Why Won’t She Stop?


Lately parents have asked me why their children won’t stop arguing. It’s a difficult problem, and you have my sympathy.

You say, “It’s time to go upstairs to take your bath.” Perhaps you even had a talk about this earlier in an attempt to avoid an argument. But now your child has been watching television, and since you have a child who has difficulty with transitions, she tries to bargain for more time.

You channel your inner parent coach and calmly say, “We talked about this. We agreed you would take your bath after this show.” Yet she bargains on. You are getting frustrated. It’s late. You want to clean up the kitchen and watch a show yourself before you drift off.

It’s a familiar scene that often ends up with both parent and child saying things they regret. Once she’s in bed and asleep, you might feel bad that the end of the day has to be so unhappy. “Why won’t she just do what I ask?” you wonder.

I want to address what you can do in the moment. (In another post I’ll talk about what you can do the next day, and it won’t be punishment!) Chances are you feel that you are in a power struggle. Or you feel that your child won’t respect your authority. Seeing it this way will motivate you to try harder to control her and assert your authority. You’ll get angrier and so will she.

Remember I mentioned that she has difficulty with transitions? When you have a recurrent problem you might consider what types of skills are involved and whether they are things your child is good at. Bedtime is a big transition. You will be less angry if you reframe the problem as your child’s difficulty with transition rather than her lack of respect or desire to be in charge.

In my experience you can have an argument with an angry child as long as you keep arguing. You need to find a way to pull yourself together and say something like, “Honey, we had an agreement. Go take your bath now.” Then you walk away. Or you might offer to facilitate her transition, “I’ll go run your bath while you take off your clothes.” If this is a no go, you can say, “Let me know when you’re ready,” and walk away.

What happens now? Your child might keep arguing, tossing remarks your way that are hard to ignore. Your child might follow you.

Take deep breaths and try to stay calm. Losing control will not improve the situation. At any rate, your child will probably see that it is difficult to have a one-sided argument.

This approach will not be magic the first time you try it. But if you can’t be provoked into exploding, she might just go take her bath. As she does this, she might toss another insult over her shoulder about what a mean parent you are. Take another deep breath and notice that she’s doing what you asked, just not in the way you wanted. Let her have the last word.

The more you can walk away from an argument, the shorter your arguments will be. You will be modeling the behavior that you would like your child to use!


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Photo credit: Caden Crawford on Flickr

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