Having a child who argues with everything you say can be draining. Many kids (and adults) enjoy a good debate from time to time. But when they have to have the last word every time, or when the constant arguments are accompanied by rude talk or bad behavior, it can wear down the most patient of parents. You may wonder how to deal with an argumentative child without breaking their spirit.
The Challenges Of Dealing With An Argumentative Child
The biggest challenge of dealing with argumentative kids is that parents and other family members are constantly drawn into a lot of debating.
Instead of talking to the child in a calm and collected manner, interactions are tense, fretful, and probably pretty loud. Soon, harsh words are exchanged, and both parent and child’s feelings are hurt.
Repeated confrontations will eventually leave everyone feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, damaging the parent-child relationship in the long run.
Overly argumentative behavior is a common symptom of children with the oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
Why does my child argue with everything I say
Let’s take a step back and do some digging.
When your child wants to argue with you about everything and most likely wants to win every single time, what do they really want?
Is it really about more screen time or fewer house chores?
Lack of autonomy in life
Most likely, children who argue or engage in power struggles want to be in control.
Consider the bigger picture.
During the course of a day, what does your child have control over?
Could you imagine what it would be like if your child switched places with you and all those things in your life were controlled by someone else?
Children often use arguments and negotiations to cope with the lack of control over certain aspects of their lives1.
Whenever a child argues about everything, then chances are they don’t have control over anything, and arguing is their attempt to gain some autonomy.
Argumentative role model
It’s also possible that your child has learned this behavior from a role model.
A number of studies have shown that children learn through imitation2,3.
Do you and your spouse often argue over everything?
Are you constantly fighting in front of your child?
Do you have an argumentative relative, friend, or neighbor?
Other adults’ argumentative behavior can also have a significant impact on your child.
What about your child’s friends?
Kids who learn from adults in their lives will teach similar behavior to other kids. Does your child have friends like that?
10 Tips on how to deal with an argumentative child
If your child is argumentative, here are a few tips for dealing with them effectively.
Find out the root cause
The best way to deal with an argumentative child is to find out the underlying cause.
The next time your child starts to argue, the first step is to take a deep breath to center yourself.
Then, ask them, “You seem to enjoy arguing over everything.”
“Is it because you believe that I never let you do things the way you want?”
Or, “Is it because you are inspired by someone who argues a lot?”
Calling them out calmly in a respectful tone of voice would probably make them stop and think before jumping into an argument reflexively. You can then go on to address the actual cause of the disagreement.
Examine your boundaries
Pushing toward autonomy is one of the key psychosocial developments of children4.
If your child argues a lot because they feel controlled, reexamine your house rules.
Parents often think that they should limit or tell their children what to do so that they do not make mistakes.
Sometimes, however, learning from the natural consequences can be more effective. If it’s not a safety or health issue, let your child decide to practice making decisions.
It is impossible to learn to walk without falling. It is also impossible to learn to make good decisions without making a few mistakes. Give your child the chance to refine their judgment.
Hold a family meeting to discuss setting new rules and agree on them.
The next time they start arguing, remind them of the agreement.
Set essential boundaries
Developing the house rules together will reduce the power struggle and arguing.
As a general rule, important things concerning safety and health issues are non-negotiable. Set clear ground rules and firm boundaries around these issues. Tell your child they must follow your decisions on these essential items because you want to protect them (not control them).
For other things, you can discuss and negotiate appropriate boundaries. Things like daily routines should be decided and agreed on in advance so there will be no arguing when it is time to leave the house in the morning.
Decide on a time limit so that if negotiation is necessary at the moment, you will discuss it for that amount of time and then move on.
Discuss when is an appropriate time to negotiate and when not to. For example, if you may be late for a flight, it is not a good time to argue.
Be A Good Role Model
Parents’ behavior profoundly impacts their children even into adulthood. It’s therefore important that parents are mindful of their reactions when dealing with argumentative children.
Take a moment to reflect on how you react to your child’s arguing. Are you doing the same things and engaging in the same type of behavior?
If so, you’ll probably find that you’re in a no-win situation.
As an adult, the change begins with you.
To turn things around and right the ship, you must be a good role model and set an example for your child by showing them how to communicate effectively and respectfully.
Limit bad influence
If other adults or children are the cause of your child’s bad behavior, limit exposure to the bad role models.
Talk to your child about why you don’t want them to be around those people.
If these are family members, speak to them about the influence they have on your child.
Explain your good reasons
Arguments occur when both sides believe their reasons are better than the others’.
If you are telling your child what to do, make sure you have very good reasons.
“Because I said so” won’t do.
As parents, we always want the best for our children. We may know that we’re making a particular decision for the best interests of our child, but our child may not know (or understand) as much as we do.
For example, you want them to stop constantly arguing over everything.
Let your child know that you want them to stop the vicious arguing because it affects you and the family. Moreover, because no one enjoys constant conflict, a habitual arguer suffers in the social arena, too, for lack of social skills.
But if you don’t have a good reason for asking your child to comply, or if your reason isn’t as good as your child’s, consider re-examining why you insist on doing things your way.
Pick your battles.
Listen to their reasons
Everyone (kids and adults alike) becomes argumentative when they don’t feel heard.
A child who feels that way will likely resort to what they know best to assert their own opinion. Take the time to ask questions and listen to your child’s point of view.
Active listening shows your child that you care about their opinion. You may even find out that their strong opinion is actually backed up by good reasons.
Focus on your (good) reason, not on being right
You need two people to argue. Your child cannot do this all by themselves.
When you insist that you are right all the time, there will always be arguments.
Emphasize that you make decisions based on their best interests. Don’t focus on who has the right way.
Make it clear that your decision shows that you care for and love them.
How motivated your child is to do what you ask them depends on the kind of relationship you share with them5.
If your child feels your love, they are more likely to comply with your request. But if you have a strained relationship due to the constant arguments, you will have a hard time convincing them.
Give Them Options
Sometimes your best bet to avoid difficult situations is to give them options.
For instance, when your child argues about what to wear, you can easily sidestep the conflict by offering them two or three options. The choice is still theirs.
Teach respectful disagreements and problem-solving techniques
Teach your child to disagree respectfully and to find the best solution possible for both parties.
Conflict resolution skills like these are essential to your child’s future success.
Final thoughts on children arguing with everything
Fighting spirit in kids is not necessarily a bad thing. Research shows that people with a strong personality tend to earn more and be happier at work6. At the end of the day, we want our kids to be happy and successful. Raising a spirited child with good behavior is all about teaching them how to ask for what they want respectfully.
- 1.Punch S. Negotiating Autonomy: Childhoods in Rural Bolivia. In: Conceptualising Child-Adult Relations. RoutledgeFalmer; 2001:23-36.
- 2.Wang Z, Williamson RA, Meltzoff AN. Imitation as a mechanism in cognitive development: a cross-cultural investigation of 4-year-old childrenâ€TMs rule learning. Front Psychol. Published online May 13, 2015. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00562
- 3.Jones SS. The development of imitation in infancy. Phil Trans R Soc B. Published online August 27, 2009:2325-2335. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0045
- 4.Pardeck J, Pardeck J. Family factors related to adolescent autonomy. Adolescence. 1990;25(98):311-319. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2375258
- 5.Reeve J, Sickenius B. Development and Validation of a Brief Measure of the Three Psychological Needs Underlying Intrinsic Motivation: The Afs Scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement. Published online June 1994:506-515. doi:10.1177/0013164494054002025
- 6.Seibert SE, Kraimer ML. The Five-Factor Model of Personality and Career Success. Journal of Vocational Behavior. Published online February 2001:1-21. doi:10.1006/jvbe.2000.1757