It can be pretty tough to argue with your child. You don’t want to be the “bad guy,” but you also still need to enforce rules to better your relationship dynamic and help shape your kids into considerate, communicative adults. (That skill will surely come in handy throughout life, anyway, right?)
Yet that means you need to stay strong. It means you cannot give into temper tantrums, tears, angry outbursts or manipulative tactics — or allow your kids a pass when they’ve done something wrong and push back against the consequences. As a parent, you have an obligation to teach them the difference between right and wrong and helpful skills, which will improve their interactions throughout their lives.
According to the experts we spoke with, there are some very simple guidelines to arguing with your kids sternly but sensitively while still being a good parent — and yes, your kids will end up thanking you a few years down the road. Better late than never.
Only engage if you’re calm
If you’re heated and could explode any second, take some time for yourself before speaking to your child, says Sarah Scott, certified positive discipline educator and parenting coach. “If you are feeling anxious or angry, this is not the time to have a conversation with your kid,” she tells SheKnows.
You don’t need to worry about too much time passing, like a few hours or an evening. “Don’t be afraid that they will forget the issue if you wait to discuss it. Kids are smarter and much more competent than we give them credit for,” she says. You can refresh their memory and revisit the argument when you’re both calm.
Don’t say, “Because I told you so”
Phrases like this don’t set a great example for kids and don’t explain our motives. Without clarity, children will feel ordered around without a valid cause and they won’t learn for subsequent scenarios either, explains licensed master social worker Kimberly Hershenson.
Instead, “give your child a reason and why you came to the decision,” she tells SheKnows. “For example, if your child has a curfew, let them know that you care about their safety,” she explains. This will help them understand why they must come home at a specific hour and they’ll be more inclined to put in the effort to be on time.
Practice reflective listening
Repeat back what your child is saying so they know you’re listening to each word and understand them, says Hershenson. They’ll be more receptive if they believe you’re really hearing them. “For example say, ‘What I hear you saying is that you’d like to stay out until 11,’” she says. Then, tell them why they can’t stay out that late, she explains.
This is validating for your child, so even if you disagree and remain firm in your decision, you’re still acknowledging their position and listening to their feelings before making a snap judgment.
Ask your child what their needs are
“Ask your child what their need is — if your child says they need to stay out late to be ‘cool,’ you can follow this with other ways to get their needs met,” explains Hershenson.
For instance, you might explain that while the extended curfew is off the table, you can think of other ways to stay on trend at school. Would a new style work? A party for all their friends one night? A super-cool new iPhone case? Learning a new skill like guitar? There are so many opportunities to figure out a solution to increase their self-esteem without backing down, and they’ll know you’re on their side if you’re actively trying to solve the problem, even if they don’t get what they want in that moment.
Compromise if you can
As long as the decision doesn’t put your kids in danger, cost more than you can afford or risk being unfair to other family members, consider making a compromise, which can improve your relationship by making your child feel like a member of the team.
“If your child wants to stay out until 11, and you want them home at 9, you can compromise on 10. Compromising allows both parties to feel like they ‘won,’” says Hershenson. Plus, you can also reevaluate in the future based on how things go. It’s a good step toward collaborating and communicating fairly.
Find common ground & validate feelings
Use phrases that connect you both, such as, “I know this is hard for you” or “What can I do to help you?” to show your child you have their back, says Scott. This shows you see the other side and are open to the discussion from a compassionate viewpoint.
Don’t play the blame game
Look for solutions instead of a place to lay blame. If they feel attacked or blamed, kids might close off and stop communicating their feelings and needs effectively. “Brainstorm ideas with your child instead of trying to ‘teach them a lesson’ and blaming them for the problem,” says Scott. That means you might want to say, “It’s no one’s fault. We are both hurt. Let’s figure out a solution from here.” From there, you can work toward a solution you can both live with.