We have a problem with arguing — how can we change this?

If you want to change the pattern of arguing, you need to stick to your plan.

Question: We are having a real problem in our house with arguing. It seems that every time we ask the kids to do anything it becomes a big argument. I know that it doesn’t help that I often just give up and do it myself, but I can’t stand the yelling and rudeness that all of us get into as the arguments go on. Our kids are 10 and 12 years old. What can we do to change this?

Answer: Before offering some suggestions for you, I think would be helpful to consider the nature of arguing. Human behaviour is generally purposeful and behaviours are engaged in because they stand some chance of helping us to meet our goals.

When your children argue with you they are aiming for a particular outcome, probably in their case to get out of doing what you ask and possibly to gain more control over decisions involving them. By keeping you wound up in an argument they have sometimes been successful in avoiding the job you asked them to do, and so the arguing behaviour has been successful.

In changing this pattern your first step might be to sit down with the kids and sort out a job list and schedule. If you give them some choices, for example, would you rather empty the dishwasher or sweep the floor, then you have given them some control over decisions affecting them. Once the job list is established, it is helpful to write it out and put it somewhere that everyone in the family can easily see it.

The next step is to expect that your children will follow the schedule and do their jobs. If they neglect to do a chore, then a reminder may be in order, but how you remind them should not lead to an argument. You could say nothing and point to the job list, or you could say something like “I think you have forgotten something.

If they try to engage you in an argument simply walk away or say “nevertheless the job needs to be done.”

The key here is to not allow yourself to get involved in explaining, rationalizing, or arguing. Your expectation is clear and you do not need to go over it again.

It could happen that one of the kids decides to test your resolve and refuses to do their job. Rather than speaking to them about it, and setting up the potential for an argument, you can refuse to do your jobs. Kids count on parents for many things in a day and refusing to drive them to an activity will have much more impact than nagging or lecturing.

They will see that there is a direct and logical connection between their refusal to do something and your response.

When we introduce something new in our families there is a tendency for everyone to slide back into old patterns. The kids will likely still try to argue and you will be tempted to give up and do it yourself.

If you really want to change the pattern of arguing, however, you will need to stick to your plan. And don’t forget to notice when jobs are getting done without arguments.

Rewarding the behaviour that you want to see, both in the kids and in yourself, is a wonderful way of strengthening new patterns.

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