UNDERLYING ISSUES WHICH MAY CONTRIBUTE TO THIS PATTERN OCCURRING:
- Mistaken beliefs about role of parenting—the parent may not buy into the belief that a fundamental role of parenting is to teach subordination to authority.
- Mistaken belief that limit-setting for the child may hurt the child emotionally.
- Mistaken belief that childhood should be pain-free and frustration-free.
- Parent may have an excessive need for love and approval by the child.
- Parent may have been exposed to an extremely authoritarian or abusive parent as a child. Parent thus tries to correct their parents’ mistakes by going to the other extreme.
- Guilt—about divorce, prior abuse, poverty, etc.
- Personality style of the parent—some parents are very passive and tend to excessively avoid conflict.
- Marital problems—excessive bonding with the child in response to marriage not meeting emotional needs.
- Divorce: parents sometimes compete in their permissiveness to win the allegiance or affection of the child.
- Parent may have substance abuse problems or emotional problems.
THE ARGUING SEQUENCE
Children typically adopt the strategy of arguing because it sometimes gets them what they want. The arguing sequence is the process by which children engage their parents in an argument when limits or demands are made. Arguing can take the form of a temper tantrum or by simply not complying with a demand. With every second that passes during an argument, chances that the parent will give-in increase. Parents generally are not aware that the arguing sequence results in increasing likelihood that they will give-in to the child. But your child knows.
HOW TO CHANGE THIS BEHAVIOR:
- Set firm limits and maintain consistency. This involves parents developing the awareness that inconsistency can inadvertently train the child to argue and defy your authority. In setting limits, it is very important to remain calm. You can be firm with your child without yelling. Children are sometimes gratified when parents become upset. They also feel more in control of the situation when the parent loses control. Stay firm, but calm.
- Watch out for the arguing sequence. Do not allow your child to lure you into lengthy arguments because this increases the likelihood that you will give-in. This may involve simply disengaging from the argument or stating that there is no reason to argue because you are not going to change your mind. You are not likely to convince your child by indulging in lengthy discussions or lectures.
- Occasional use of The Reversal Technique, which simply involves intermittently rewarding your child for not arguing. Children catch on to this very quickly—once they do, they will begin to use compliance as a way to get what they want—which is what you want!
- Parents can embrace the idea that a fundamental responsibility as a parent is to teach respect for authority and compliance to authority. Children who grow up without this ability tend to have significant problems as adults.
- Engage natural supports—you may need help from family or friends to change your parenting style and to stay focused. If you have a spouse or partner, it is important that they join in and support the effort.
- Parents can obtain treatment for themselves if they have emotional problems or substance abuse problems.
- Obtain marital counseling if parents are disengaged with each other or conflicted over disciplinary issues.
OTHER TECHNIQUES FOR PARENTS
- Two minute warning: give the child advanced warning that a demand is coming, so he can overcome his typical response and possibly come up with another response—a more cooperative one.
- Have a regular routine including chores. Children need to have responsibilities in the home to develop a sense of competency, self-esteem, and a sense that they are contributing.
- Parents show more consideration in their demands—by not intruding on the child excessively or embarrassing the child.
- Parents can use a softer, more courteous approach. In the process of making a request of the child though, the request should be very clear and be stated more as a demand than as a question.
- Outings. Expectations for the child need to be spelled out before the outing. Parents should remove children from social situations when significant arguing or tantrum behavior occurs. Parents need to have a plan to do so before entering those situations. Parents can provide an incentive or a reward for compliance which can be provided at the end of the outing.
- Counting. 1-2-3. If a parent makes a demand and counts to 3 without compliance, a consequence can be issued. Counting gives the child a clear idea as to where the parent is in the process of deciding that a negative consequence should happen.
- Precision commands: This is a variation of counting. Commands are given clearly and succinctly, but no more than three times. After that, a consequence is given.
- Use of therapeutic hold. This involves physically holding smaller children until they discontinue aggressive or destructive behavior.
It is likely that once you begin the process of maintaining consistency and requiring compliance from your child, the child’s behavior may become worse for a period of time. This is because the child may be testing a parent’s resolve. Once the child learns that a parent is not going to give-in to arguing or non-compliance—and that this type of behavior will not benefit them—they will adopt compliance as a strategy to get what they want.
The process of retraining a child to be more cooperative and respectful can be challenging and sometimes stressful. It requires a commitment to consistency and a belief that children must be taught respect for authority. The results of this training will be a more respectful, and a more motivated child—and a more tranquil home.
About the Author: Steve Tyler is the Director of Outpatient Services at Aspire Indiana’s Lebanon office. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Tyler, you can learn more about Aspire Indiana at https://www.facebook.com/AspireIndiana.