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Strategies For Argumentative Children

Strategies for parenting Debaters 

These are very verbal children who can tie you up in never ending debates about who got the most and was it fair. While sometimes you will feel the need to debate, if only to defend your own decision making, it is, sadly, often a pointless exercise.
Strategies For Argumentative Children

Mrs. McIngle told me that her son was always complaining about being overlooked. His brothers, he said, were loved more, were driven more places, and got bigger presents than he did.

"Of course," said Mrs. McIngle, "what parent wouldn't worry about this? I tried to discuss the relative merits: 'Remember when I bought you the bike? Remember when we had lunch out together?'

"None of this impressed him at all. I started taking him out shopping, which worked for a while, but then he wanted bigger and bigger presents. My income couldn't keep up with his buying habits. Also, I started to feel guilty again. The others were missing out. Finally I realized it wasn't shopping and gifts he needed."

Don't debate these children for long periods; instead, respond with affection. For example, "You poor dear, you must be so unhappy to be feeling that way, let me give you a hug." Deal with their hurt feelings. Offer understanding rather than pity, then set up opportunities for success.

Setting aside some special time with these children each week that is child-directed is particularly valuable. (This is a good idea with all kids, but is really helpful with Debaters.)

Some Debaters need to have structured times, e.g., start at..., finish at .... Then they can know that this time belongs to them, and they don't have to struggle or complain to maintain your attention.

One-on-one time often works best to begin with. These children have learned that one way to get affection and attention is through disputes. This takes a while to undo. Where possible, praise them in private. Nonverbal signs such as ruffling their hair or patting their shoulder also work well as reminders that they are loved.
Families with Debaters need to have consistency and structure, as a freewheeling lifestyle quickly descends into a debate about fairness. Unless you are prepared to go to the International Court of Dispute Resolution every time you want to do something with your kids, put routines into family life and ensure that everyone gets a fair go.

Debaters often battle with their brothers or sisters. These skirmishes can become so intense they can make life miserable for everyone.

If my earlier political example didn't make this clear enough, Debaters are masters of emotionally accusing others, e.g., "He did it," "It was her fault," and "You always take her side." They don't have the shifty subtlety of a Manipulator; they go at you with the determination of a hung-over, disgruntled pit-bull terrier with a terrible case of piles.

These kids often seem to be blessed with great memories, which they use to source examples to back their case. Let's look in on a typical conversation:

Parent: John, it's four o'clock, could you please feed the dog?
John: It's not my turn, Elizabeth has to do it. I fed her guinea pig last Thursday.
Parent: [repeating] John, it's four o'clock, could you please feed the dog? 

John: You always pick on me. It's not fair,
Parent: No I don't, now go and feed the dog,
John: Yes you do! How about the time you took her to the movies and I had to do homework?
Parent: That's because you hod work overdue.
John: You love her more than me. You always have! 

At this rate, the dog could well starve to death in this household because John will never voluntarily bring the discussion back to doing his chore.

If allowed to, Debaters can spend enormous amounts of time accusing and blaming others until it becomes a habit. Either walk away, saying, "I can't listen to this right now," or look at them sadly and say, "I can see you must be feeling very sad in order to be saying those things. Come and have a hug." To find out more, you can check out Strategies For Argumentative Children.