How to Win an Argument with Your Kids

Let’s face it, our kids can say things that make us want to pull our hair out.  Even the most patient and gentle parents can get frustrated sometimes and before they know it, tact and maturity are totally out of the window.  I use to beat myself up anytime I would lose my composure.  I’d be like “Great, Brenda! Good job! You’re officially the worst mom ever.”  I would take an unreasonably firm tone with myself and then turn around and expect to have a patient and loving tone with my kids.  It doesn’t work like that.  I got to the point that I was so afraid of being triggered that the first sign of tension, I would try to keep it all in.  Just like holding in a sneeze, it comes out regardless.  Ask my husband and my dog.

One thing I had to give up was holding myself to this impossible standard of parent perfection.  Shrinking into humiliation and guilt after any unnerving event never serves.  Somehow accepting that I would eventually find myself pissed off and confused and that it would be okay really helped.  When you finally quiet the critic in your head, you can actually be pretty innovative.

Here’s what I’ve discovered works for me:

Step 1.  Notice the tension when it is happening.  I try to become acutely aware of where the tension is located in my body whenever I realize I’m triggered.  Is it tension in my throat, chest, or stomach?  Am I holding my breath?  Breathing into tension without thinking about anything but the breath is extremely grounding.

Step 2.  Notice what the facts are.  It’s easy to say “OH he’s just acting like a victim,  or she just wants attention, or he’s only being nice because he wants me to buy him the Lego Batman Returns Dreamhouse.” These might even be true, but what’s funny is that these predictions aren’t useful.  They are totally irrelevant to why you are feeling powerless and triggered. There is nothing that you need to solve for your kids - it’s something for you to solve in yourself. I know,the last thing I want to hear when I’m frustrated is that it’s not them, it’s me - but seriously, it’s not them.

Step 3.  Figure out what you need that you are not getting, and bring that to your response.  In the communication that exists between people, each party brings something into the space of communication.  Often, children can bring immaturity and frustration and demand.  We have an opportunity to bring something else into the space and so whatever we feel is missing like patience, kindness, a sense that everything is going to be okay are the things that the communication space needs.  

One of my sons use to wake up in the morning, walk into the kitchen and could see that I was hustling to get breakfast made.  Without saying “Good morning” or “Hi, mom” like his brothers, he would say in a demanding tone “Where’s my breakfast?”  Ouch.  Immediately I would cringe.  I was like “Where do you think it is?  I only have 2 hands and you can see that it is coming.  Can you just sit down and wait?”

I don’t know about you guys, but when my kids say or do rude things, it’s easy to go way out into the future and imagine that they are going to be like that when they grow up and it strikes fear and panic in the heart.  Predicting negative outcomes (scary thoughts of the future) is a bad habit that I just forced myself to stop doing.  Over time, I realized that the frustration and tension in my body was there for a different reason, a personal reason, not because of my son. There was some old belief that was sticking around begging to be adjusted.  

I could feel the tension in my chest, and I took a long calming breath into it.  There isn’t this immediate need to answer my sons question.  Many times I’ve seen tension on both sides just melt away with a single deep breath.  I noticed the facts.  My son asked for breakfast, and I felt tense.  

Then I asked myself, what do I need that is missing from the communication.  This need has all of the hidden gems to unlock our limiting beliefs.  I needed my son to just be happy and grateful.  I needed patience and space to get breakfast ready.

How many of us take responsibility for what other people feel and think?  That’s a good sign that you are minding their business, micromanaging what they should feel and do, and not in your own business.  That makes two people working full time for them, and no one over here for you.  That’s why you feel tension, it’s fear, because you’re treading water in an area that you cannot control - someone else’s feelings!  

I realized it wasn’t my job to make my son happy.   It’s my job to make sure I’m being the best version of myself in relationship to him. Oh, and to make breakfast for my 900 kids.

If you want people to be happy, grateful, patient and that's not happening in the space of your communication with them, bring that to the conversation.  It’s the medicine because it's what’s missing.  When we bring that to a conversation, it’s available for others to see, experience, feel and even learn.  

So, how did I make that moment with my son a win, win moment?  How could I bring the gratitude, patience, kindness that was missing?

The next time he came in with “Where’s my breakfast," in my calm compassionate intelligence I redirected him “Ask me differently, honey.”  

He thought about it, and said “give me my breakfast.”  So, after another long deep breath, I said calmly, “Try again.”  Finally, after realizing I wasn't taking the free tickets he was giving out to the power struggle, he got hungry and said, “Can I have breakfast, please?”  Cheerfully, I said “Yes, thank you for asking for what you want.”

When we understand why we are triggered and question the beliefs behind it, it eventually erodes those tension points inside yourself, leaving you with more authentic, clear and loving communication.  It gives you power, influence, compassion and ease. Peaceful, non-violent communication for the win!  

KidsBrenda Hastings