Children take words literally because they are concrete thinkers, and this can lead to some humorous misinterpretations. I remember one of my own misinterpretations from childhood, one that provides me now with a lesson opportunity.
I was engaged in some sort of dispute with my older sister who was thirteen. I was eight, but apparently my argument skills were already world class. 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 remember picturing in my mind our backyard fence, with me talking to one of the posts.
I had no clue what she meant, nor did I realize at the time that I had crossed a line with my sister. I had won a verbal battle, but lost the war. In addition to hurting our sibling relationship, I'm sure that whatever I wanted from my arguing, I didn't get.
A definition of arguing: Using logic and emotion to change someone's mind without considering how the intensity of the discussion hurts the relationship.
The child who is prone to argue will often start with “Why?” in order to find ammunition. You view it as a harmless question, and since you have the answer on the tip of your tongue you graciously pass it on. 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 get their own way. Arguing can become an irritating habit, but even worse, it’s also a symptom of a heart problem.
Children who argue have good character qualities like persistence, perseverance, determination, creativity, and the ability to communicate their ideas. The problem with arguing is that your 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 is to encourage the positive qualities and discourage the negative.
When you sense that your child has crossed the line and is valuing the issue at the expense of the relationship, stop the dialogue. Refuse to argue. That's what my sister did, and it worked. It takes two to argue but only one to stop.
If emotions are high, come back later and discuss with your child how arguing, once you had made your decision, made you feel disrespected.
Remember: Winning an argument, even with good logic, isn't the primary goal. You want to teach your child 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.