Why Does My Child Argue With Everything I Say? How To Get Out of the Fighting Cycle

SavvyMom February 8, 2021
fighting with kids

After 2021 arrived, and especially with the fresh start for the U.S., it feels like there’s new hope. However, with the stress of Covid, the same old arguments from 2020 are creeping into the new year. With heightened tensions and worries, who else feels like they’re stuck in a ‘argue, yell, repeat’ cycle with your kids?

You’re not alone—it happens in houses across the country. It’s almost as if the kids just want to keep having the same fight no matter how scary or sad it is. The truth is, they sort of do.

Most kids do want to keep reliving the same script because as uncomfortable as it is, it’s familiar. Whether it is about mealtime, bedtime, bath or screen time, the kids know this script so well (and let’s face it, the parents do too). It’s not going to change unless you change it.

Here’s a familiar dance:

You: ‘Time for bed, okay?’ (Child does not move. Responds with a tantrum.) You drag them to their bedroom, or talk about it for 10 minutes before giving in and letting them stay up. Repeat again the following night. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are two practical tips for avoiding the fighting cycle:

1. Decide when your child can have control. When we make every decision, our kids tend to fight for control.

Have your child set their own timer for 10 minutes before bedtime. When the timer goes, they can let you know it’s time to get ready. When the timer rings, they should know: ‘The timer means bedtime. We get books and a chat/snuggle with mom or dad at bedtime.’  If they don’t follow through, your line might be, ‘The timer is ringing, what does that mean?’ 

This can be applied for anyone doing online schooling right now as well. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes before school needs to start. That’s their reminder that it’s time for them to get to their work area, ready to go for the day.

How can you give them even more control? Maybe you can discuss when they think an appropriate bedtime is (within reason, of course). Or maybe you can talk about what they want to incorporate into their bedtime routine. Maybe they want time for a snack, or maybe they’d like more than one story.

2. Teach your child the new plan. And make sure they know how you will respond when it goes well and when it doesn’t go well. 

Write it out so that it is all clear to everyone involved. Take time to teach your child the new plan for bedtime. If they are:

2 years and under: Talk it through with them, with photos or drawings of the steps; you could even make a book.

3 years and up: Involve them in creating the written plan.

EITHER WAY, give your child a new script. Know what you will say to cue them and tell them their lines too.

The yelling happens because it’s part of a known script and because we are frustrated by being back in the same situation yet again. Yelling stops when we know exactly what is expected and how we will respond when it works and when it doesn’t.

It is okay for your child to feel sad when things go differently from what they want. Try saying, ‘I know you would rather keep playing. It’s okay to be sad. I’m moving forward with our plan. Let me know when you are ready to help out, you can cry if you need to.”

Good luck, parents. This isn’t easy, but it sure is worth it.

 

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