I began another Parenting with Love and Logic series last week in an elementary school and was reminded again about the foundation skill of all parenting. Good grades, smooth mealtimes, kids who get up and get ready for school in the morning and happy shopping trips all begin with one amazing skill: the ability to neutralize arguing.
There must be a hook on the end of every word our children say to us that draws us into an argument and power struggle! You walk down a hall toward a doctor’s office with time for just a few words and struggle to contain the argument that began in the hall once inside the lobby. You ask that breakfast be consumed so that we can get in the car to go to school and suddenly, within a very few words, you find yourself drawn into an argument with someone a fraction of your age. How did they do that?
Rather than thinking of arguments as something our children control, remember that you are the adult in the room and you have the power to stop arguing whether they cooperate or not! Wouldn’t that be worth learning about?
The key to neutralizing arguing is to stop arguing! Stop yourself and you stop the two-way exchange. “It takes two…” the old saying says.
Jim Fay teaches the skill of “going brain dead” as the way to cut off thoughts before they squirt out our teeth. Allowing our children to draw us into a battle of the wits only plays to their control of the situation. We really don’t need a reason for asking that breakfast be completed swiftly. Defending our thoughts is a dead-end street. Going brain dead means we quit thinking of reasons to give and just deflect every complaint and challenge that comes out of their mouths with a pre-selected “one-liner” like, “I know…” or even just the sound, “Uhhhhhh,” spoken very softly with lots of breath and empathy behind it.
When our children learn that we aren’t going to participate in the argument any more, they get mad but they finally give up trying to convince us with their childhood logic. Almost any manipulative comment from a child’s lips can be answered with the same one line, “I know.” The only one that doesn’t work is, “You don’t love me!” which can shift our response to, “Nice try!” Keep the soft voice and leave off the sarcasm, which is actually a form of arguing with our tone of voice.
The mindset of parenting that allows us to stop arguing with our children is one of calm self-control. I don’t have to establish my dominance and brilliance to a seven-year-old. I’m the parent and I love you but I’m not going to argue with you. In fact, one of the suggested one-liners is, “I love you too much to argue with you.” When you are confident you aren’t going to argue anymore, you can relax and enjoy being the parent again.
Every skill a parent develops depends on the ability to hold the line against arguing. If a child can argue us down after we say or do something, we are toast.
While you wrap up school for this year and prepare to spend Christmas break with a house full of kids, sharpen this foundational skill and save everyone from endless tirades and pointless screaming matches.