Dear Groovy Mama,
My eight year old son is challenging me on everything. When my husband and I give him the answer – he picks a fight with us. He won’t back off. I’m going crazy and I hate to say this, but I find myself arguing with him. Silly me. I’m arguing with a kid. I’m not winning either. –L.M.
I have a ‘negotiator’ for a son. When he was young, he would try to circumvent everything I told him in an attempt to control the situation. At a certain point, I realized I was arguing with him far too often. And you are absolutely right, no one can win when arguing with young, egocentric humans. It simply leaves you feeling crazy, frustrated, and defeated. But there is good news, my friend! My husband and I found victory over this behavior, and you can too.
First, we identified the problem. Respect is the underlying issue. My son didn’t respect us enough to accept our commands, our answers, or our requests. We fashioned a game plan with the understanding that both of us would handle the situation in the same way. Every time. It’s super important to be a unified team when you have an issue to iron out with your kids. Mommy and Daddy being on the same page will make things tons easier, and bring about change much quicker!
We decided to implement a first time obedience mantra. We sat our kids down and explained that it’s our job, given by God, to teach them how to respect authority. If we failed in that part of our job, they may grow up to be in conflict with their boss, the law, and even God himself. We asked their forgiveness and told them that from now on, if we told them something and they chose to disobey, argue, or otherwise disrespect us, we would say, “When do we obey?” Their response is to be, “The first time.” (For simple disrespect, we might ask, “Is that how we respond to authority?” Them: “No, ma’am or sir.”)
Be sure to have clear consequences for not following the new rules. When arguments crop up, don’t engage at all. Don’t get angry or frustrated, just calmly state the mantra. If they refuse to comply with the proper response, simply implement whatever consequence you and your husband have agreed upon. Immediate consequences that occur every single time they stray from the expected behavior will eventually bring them into compliance. Consistency is key here! Conversely, be sure to affirm and thank them when they respond appropriately.
Now, since none of us wish to squash our children’s spirits, there is one last thing we do once we have gotten the first time obedience and respect established. If our kids feel that what we are asking is unfair, or that we aren’t respecting them, they can discuss it with us later at a time of peace. Respect and obedience, however, has to come first. Later, we can talk about the situation and how we might handle it differently (Or not, and why.) the next time.
It’s important for our kids to feel heard and understood. However, it’s equally important for them to learn to exercise self-control and that the world doesn’t always run the way they might like it to. This can be a tricky balance, but with a firm game plan, a lot of patience, and cool heads, you and your husband can bring balance and peace to your home.
From your brief description of the situation, it would appear that your son views himself as your equal, or perhaps even your superior. He has grown wise in his own eyes. Now, while he is equal with you in terms that “all men are created equal”, time and experience, not to mention the fact that you are his parents, afford you a position of leadership and authority over him. Sometimes, we, as parents, try to be “friends” or “buddies” with our young ones. I mean, c’mon…we all want our kid to like us, right? But the time for being “buddies” will come later, when they are adults. Right now, your job is to guide and lead and shape him. This is going to take a lot of consistent effort on your part…and prayer…lots and lots of prayer.
Where to start? Well, my guess is that you’ve allowed your son certain freedoms before he was mature enough to handle them. They might be freedoms in decision-making, where he has simply been given too many choices with everything. “Do you want to wear that shirt or this shirt? Do you want to eat this or that?” Then, when something comes up that doesn’t allow him a choice, he’s confused and expects his input on the matter to be heard…and will fight for it. It’s too much power for him at his age.
It’s time to reign in the boundaries of his choices. This will be very tough for you at first, but probably no more difficult than what you’re going through already. Will he fight against it? Absolutely…at first. But, believe it or not, he actually wants you to be his parents and wants to know that there are boundaries. Over time, he can be given age-appropriate choices. The general rule of thumb is when a kid can handle not have any choices, then they’re ready for choices.
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo have a ton of great wisdom on this issue in their “Growing Kids Gods Way” course. I’d highly recommend it. Not just for you, but for every parent. It’s a fantastic resource. http://www.growingfamiliesusa.com/
Check out the creative and vocal talents of Dave at his website, www.davedeandrea.com!