Dealing with an argumentative child can be challenging for parents. Discover 7 game-changing ways to stop kids from constantly arguing about everything.
“We’re going to watch Ninjago today, because yesterday we watched Rowan Freemaker,” my son announced. Usually he keeps good track of which show to watch and when, but on this particular day, he was wrong.
“Actually, we watched Ninjago yesterday,” I corrected him, “so today we’re watching Rowan Freemaker.”
“No,” he said, standing his ground. “Remember how…” and he continued to fill in the plot of the show, oblivious to the fact that he was recounting a different day.
But despite any attempt to “prove” my point and all the evidence to show otherwise, he continued to argue that he was right.
If you find yourself dealing with an argumentative child as well, you’re not alone.
Maybe it seems like your child always has something arrogant or rude to say whenever you tell him to do something. Perhaps he doesn’t respond well when you correct him. No matter the topic, he argues about anything and everything.
And while his behavior is enough to get you upset, you’re left not knowing what else to do. You’ve tried time-outs and threatened with punishments. You’ve spoken to him about his behavior, letting him know he can’t talk to you like that.
And in a fit of anger, you’ve even told him to stop arguing because you know what you’re talking about.
How can parents better respond to an argumentative child and avoid raising a “know it all”?
How to respond to an argumentative child
If you’re like me, you can find it difficult to tolerate arguing from kids. We feel surprised, attacked, and even threatened when they question our authority.
But trying to assert authority in that way not only backfires, but it does little to nurture the kind of loving relationship we want to have. Instead, we need to turn inward to see why these arguments trigger a reaction in us in the first place, and how we can better communicate with our kids.
Through these methods, you’re respecting your child’s point of view and teaching him how to better convey his ideas. All while providing the firm boundaries he needs—in a respectful and kind way.
Take a look at these seven ways to respond to your argumentative child:
1. Appreciate your child’s personality
For any parent with an argumentative child, appreciating her personality can seem impossible. How are you expected to find the good in someone who questions everything you say or outright refuses to listen?
We tend to categorize kids as behaving “good” and “bad,” and not always for fair reasons. “Good” behavior is when they’re playing quietly, doing what we say, and otherwise making life easier… for us. “Bad” behavior, meanwhile, is anything that does the opposite.
If you remove that factor—whether your child is making life easier or harder for you—how might her behavior then be a perk, rather than a hindrance?
Well, for one thing, she’s someone who knows what she believes in and will stand up for it. She’s willing to question authority and isn’t going to allow others to take away her power. She’ll also likely be a good leader, a self-starter, and passionate about anything she puts her mind to.
Not too shabby, right?
It’s not so much about squashing these traits out of her through force, threats, and coercion. Instead, it’s about showing her how to better communicate with others.
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2. Acknowledge your child’s motives
I can’t tell you how many times my son has insisted on correcting his brothers on just about anything. The minute they say something incorrect or whimsical, he’ll step in with the “real” fact.
At first I thought this was an annoying quirk, but after I had had enough, I asked him, “Why do you feel like you have to correct them?”
To which he responded, “So they don’t keep thinking the wrong things.”
His motive wasn’t to blurt every right answer or squash his brothers’ imaginative play. His true intent was that they not grow up thinking these wrong statements.
As an adult, I don’t correct my kids over every incorrect statement, knowing that they’ll sort it out on their own just fine. But from my son’s point of view, he assumed that not correcting his brothers would mean they’d forever have the wrong information.
We don’t often see the true motivation that drives an argumentative child to press her points over and over. On the surface, all we see is a stubborn child adamant about being right. But dig deep: what could be an underlying reason your child continues to argue?
Maybe she assumes, like my son did, that it’s her place to correct anything she knows to be factually wrong. Perhaps she feels strongly about what she believes, compelled to stand her ground no matter what. Or she needs you to show her you understand where she’s coming from.
Before assuming she’s out to argue about everything, acknowledge her motives. “I can see that this is important to you,” or “It does sometimes feel unfair when we have to go to bed, doesn’t it?”
3. Ask yourself if you could be wrong
As parents, we tend to think we know what we’re talking about. We have “eyes behind our heads” and can monitor every sibling fight. We’re also older, so of course we’re always right, right?
I’m sure you’re willing to admit that that isn’t the case at all.
In fact, I learned this all too well when I had jumped in while my kids were arguing about something. I assumed that one of them had been bothering the other, and reprimanded him for doing so. This of course led him to argue his side, which “proved” how much he tended to argue.
But after we all calmed down, I realized I was completely wrong. I had stepped in, assuming one thing while being wrong about what had actually happened.
The next time your child insists on something, ask yourself if you could be wrong. We don’t always know everything, and acting like we do doesn’t make for a good example.
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“We’re not exempt from mistakes or their consequences. For children to learn how and when to apologize, we need to take that first step and do so ourselves. Forcing your child to say sorry does little to encourage genuine, heartfelt remorse. Instead, she learns best when you apologize for your mistakes.”
After all, we’re not infallible. Many times, we’ll wish we could retract harsh words or hasty actions. We’re angry with our kids, or we yank at our daughter’s arm a little too hard, coercing her out of a tantrum.
But we can’t undo our mistakes—no way to rewind and change what we’ve done. Instead, we do the next best thing: We apologize.
4. Watch how you behave
As easy as it is to point the finger at your child, ask yourself if you’re argumentative as well. Kids model the behavior they see, regardless of what we tell them to do. If you have the same tendencies to bicker—whether with your child or others around you—she’s more likely to model that same behavior.
Be intentional about changing how you speak to her, whether she’s arguing with you or not. Do you need her to clean up her toys? Say so in a respectful tone of voice. Did she do something wrong? Decide whether correcting her is worth the ensuing debate.
The best way to think about how to behave toward her is to imagine how you would like her to behave toward you. Be the person you’d like her to emulate, and more than likely, she’ll follow suit.
5. Reflect back and ask questions
One of the hallmarks of a good listener is to shift the focus to the person they’re listening to, so he feels heard and understood. And two of the best ways to do this is to reflect back what the other person said, and to ask questions.
Rather than debating with your child, start by reflecting back and describing what he had said.
Let’s say he refuses to eat the meal you spent so much time cooking. You might say, “It looks like you don’t want to eat the chicken. Is that right?”
Then you can ask follow-up questions so you can better understand where he’s coming from. “What don’t you like about it?” He might respond that he doesn’t like the black beans, at which point you can then ask, “Hmm, what should we do about that?”
He might even come up with his own solutions, like moving the beans to the side of the plate or taking five bites of the beans and leaving the rest. Case solved.
He’s less defensive because he feels heard and understood. And by asking questions, you’re working with him to solve a problem together, rather than engaging in another epic battle.
6. Show your child how to say it better
Behind the haughty attitude or incessant arguing is likely a good point your child is trying to make. Rather than squashing his ideas or points, show him how to say them in a better way.
Start by nipping his tone of voice or choice of words in the bud: “It’s okay to disagree, but we have to do it respectfully. You wouldn’t like it if someone said that to you in that tone of voice.” Be firm about setting expectations of how family members ought to treat one another.
Then, model how he can express himself. Offer the words he can use, and say them in a tone of voice that’s more respectful than what he had said.
Sometimes kids don’t know how to actually get their points across in a different way. By giving concrete examples, you’re teaching him how to better communicate while still honoring what he has to say.
7. Let it go
Hearing your child question you can make you want to prove yourself or assert your authority. But step back a moment and see what it’s like to be in his shoes right now.
Maybe, given his age, what he continues to assert is all he knows (even if he’s technically wrong). Perhaps being in this argumentative environment is making him feel more and more defensive, instead of open to new ideas.
Instead of drawing up your own defenses, be the “bigger person” and let it go.
He wants to wear his plaid pants with his striped shirt? Sure. He insists that the spoons go on the left of the plate and the forks go on the right? Let him think so. He’d rather brush his teeth right before leaving for school instead of after breakfast? So long as he keeps his word, fine.
Because I’m willing to bet that 90% of the times you argue with him, it’s over these small issues. Focus on the ones that matter and let the rest go.
The best part? By letting go, he’s better able to let his own arguments go, as well. When he sees how you’re able to “agree to disagree,” he doesn’t feel compelled to argue his point to the death, too.
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Dealing with an argumentative child can add stress to even the most patient parent’s day. But by first working from within instead of engaging in even more arguments, you can turn things around.
Start by acknowledging your child’s motives so you can see that he’s not out to make life miserable, but feels strongly about her point. Appreciate the perks of his personality, so that you can learn to nurture them in a healthy way.
Ask yourself if you’re wrong about your own arguments, and model the kind of behavior you want him to follow. Then, instead of launching into your own line of defenses, reflect back what he had said, and ask questions on how to move forward.
And finally, ask yourself if engaging in another argument is worth it. If not, then let it go… not as a sign of defeat, but because life shouldn’t be wasted on petty things.
After all, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you watch Ninjago two days in a row, right?
p.s. Check out Baditude! What to Do When Life Stinks! by Julia Cook, a children’s book to help your child turn negative situations around:
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