Usually, when a child won’t stop arguing, it’s because they’re irritable from low being tired or hungry, they feel disrespected, or
and/or they feel out of control.
Here are the questions to ask yourself to identify the cause of any behavior:
1. Are their biological needs accounts low?
If so… that need must be addressed for behavior to change.
2. Do they know that you mean what you say?
Have you been consistent in the past?
Or do they know they can just move slowly and eventually you’ll give up on trying to get them to do something?
If you haven’t been consistent… in that moment, you’ll have to be firm and let them travel the Yuck curve.
3. Do they have the tools to do what they’re supposed to do?
Is this situation requiring them to use the tools that most kids lack:
…Handling monotony (staying focused)
Regulate emotions (including handling your stress about being late)?
If so… make a suggestion for this tool. If they’re not too deep in Yuck, this is all it will take.
4. Are they in Yuck?
Do they feel:
Out of control
Scenario: Dylan asks his mom to watch a show, but she tells him he’s already had enough screen time that day so he couldn’t watch a show. Dylan tells her all of the reasons he should be able to watch and why she is being unfair. Dylan’s mom reiterates and continues to explain the rules of the house and why he can’t watch. Dylan continues to argue.
How Dylan’s mom might answer these questions
1. Are his biological needs accounts low?
It is getting close to bed, so Dylan may be a little tired. He’s also likely looking for something to do since he’s not engaged in anything else.
2. Does Dylan know that I mean what I say?
Dylan knows that if he just “waits out” his mom, he’ll usually gets his way. This is likely contributing to his continued arguments.
3. Does Dylan have the tools to do what he’s supposed to do?
While this situation doesn’t require Dylan to stay focused or handle a transition, it does require him to regulate his emotions (he’s disappointed that he can’t watch the show) and control his impulses (so that he stop himself from calling his mom mean names).
4. Is Dylan in Yuck?
Dylan definitely feels out of control since he wants to do something, he’s being told he can’t, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He likely also feels disconnected and disrespected, especially when his mom is trying to tell him why SHE’S right and doesn’t act like she cares about his point of view.
Putting it all together
Dylan’s mom identifies what’s going on and what to do
What’s causing Dylan’s negative behavior:
Dylan wants something to do. He had it in his mind that he could watch a show (and imagined how good it would feel to do so) when he’s told that he can’t. He doesn’t know how to handle his disappointment in a mature way…and even if he did, he’s not great at controlling his impulses. To make matters worse, he’s tired.
So he tries to get control back any way he can (by arguing) and as his mom continues to tell him why she is right and he is wrong, it only makes him feel more out of control, so he argues MORE.
How she can address the situation:
Dylan’s mom does NOT have to change her boundary in attempt to try to give him more control. But she can treat him with respect and help him through his big emotions. Instead of engaging in a power struggle and justifying her decision, she can stop arguing and genuinely respect his perspective. She doesn’t have to say much to him. She can be with him while he travels the Yuck curve and even focus on calming herself down if this is hard for her to do. Once he’s out of Yuck, she can ask him if he wants to choose the next time he watches the show.
What it might look like: The words
Mom: Dylan, I know you really wanted to watch that show. It’s your favorite.
Dylan: It is! You’re being so unfair!
Mom doesn’t say anything. She knows that justifying her decision will only make Dylan feel less heard and more out of control.
Dylan: Mom! I want to watch!
Mom doesn’t say anything.
Dylan: Stop ignoring me!
Mom doesn’t say anything.
Dylan (screams): Mom!!!
Mom, getting frustrated takes a deep breath and uses her coping strategy — counting 3 red things she sees in the room, then 3 orange things, then 3 yellow…
Dylan tries to engage his mom but when he sees that she’s not giving into him or losing her cool, he eventually stops. He seems exhausted.
Mom: Hey kiddo, when do you want to watch that show tomorrow? After school or after dinner?
Dylan: After school.
Mom: You got it. And I want to hear about it afterwards, OK?
Don’t forget: You will not be able to effectively ask (and answer) these questions when you’re in Yuck!