It seems that the pandemic may be moving behind us. Yet, despite the newfound sense of freedom, many families are struggling with more conflict than ever. Some of this has evolved from a world with many changing and inconsistent expectations for children and adolescents. Regardless, it seems that many children are arguing and negotiating over every little thing. Such repeated wastes of time and energy can start to drive anyone a bit crazy.
The good news: This is resolvable.
The problem begins with inaccurate information.
Many of us have been (falsely) taught that children need a stronger voice in making decisions in their life. We hear the battle cry: “Give kids more choice.” And so we listen and turn to our children to offer them more choice.
In doing so, we begin offering young children options where they should have none. Children have excessive input on decisions that fall in the parents’ domain and are not in the child’s domain. When the child makes a poor choice, mom and dad start to educate or negotiate. Depending on the temperament of the child, this may quickly lead to escalation and arguments.
Early discussions later lead to teen arguments
As children get older, the negotiations turn to arguments. They have become empowered to believe that their voice deserves to be engaged on almost every topic, and they become more persistent in trying to get it their way. Once you go down this path of negotiating and arguing, your life will be consumed with this, and many times the arguments tend to turn ugly.
How to end negotiations and arguments
1. Gain clarity on child vs. parent decisions
Giving kids more choice when it comes to issues in the child’s realm of competency is healthy. We like that for kids. Children should decide what toys to play with, what shirt to wear and what friends to have over for playdates. These decisions promote independence and develop maturity over time.
Parent decisions require adult understanding, wisdom, and maturity. Parents know that eating healthy food will not include sweets or fast food and make these decisions. They know that kids need a regular bedtime and must decide what time is beneficial for their child, given tomorrow’s schedule. It needs to be mom and dad who chooses healthy limits in almost every domain, not the child.
Do not allow children into the parent realm of decision-making. If you do, then life gets very confusing. Inevitably, you will end up arguing and negotiating over every limit you try to set.
2. Make the parental decision only once
Decide upon bedtime, how much screen time, and what healthy foods will be found in your kitchen. When eating out, make healthy decisions for your kids, and don’t open the floor to negotiations over the unhealthy options. Decide what clothes are appropriate for your tween or teen, and don’t repeat yourself.
As a parent, we have to step into that psychological state of “certainty” and know that we are more competent and capable of making good decisions than our children. This experiential competency is valid for decisions involving bedtime, healthy meals, phone usage, video game limits, homework quality, as well as a myriad of other critical parenting decisions that set necessary limits on children.
In each parental domain, find certainty and now make the decision. Do it once, and write it down. Find peace with these, and be done with it.
3. Never engage the argument or negotiation again
Mastering the power of disinterest is the magical, secret juice here. Once you are clear about the parental limits and the healthy decisions, don’t repeat yourself or get into debates or negotiations. Please write down the limit, so your children can see it…NOT hear it. Never repeat or try to justify yourself. At all costs, do not negotiate. Remain disinterested in all the dramatic efforts to pull you in.
Why does this work? Because:
- Children only negotiate with parents who negotiate
- Children only argue with parents who argue
If you can grasp the power of this, then you can see how to end negotiations and arguments forever. You have to walk away from the ‘bait.’ And the bait can be tempting, as your children muster challenge after challenge. But, still, you walk away.
Remember: you have already made the decisions; no need to justify or argue. More importantly, no need to win the argument. (Hold to the limits you have set by managing your home in a manner consistent with those limits.)
If you can do this for the next 30 days, you will find that a miracle seems to occur. Your kids begin to accept limits without negotiation or fights, and this is remarkably fulfilling.