How to Deal With an Argumentative Child

how to deal with an argumentative child

You probably want to know how to deal with an argumentative child if you have a disputatious son or daughter. They disagree with everything you say, quarrel with their siblings, and contest your ideologies and everything you try to teach them. Simple instructions become complex debates. Corrections are opposed, and fun family time is taken over by prolonged debate that leaves everyone exasperated.

To deal with an argumentative child, parents should first understand that the problem lies in the quality of the argument the child engages in. They can help them improve the quality of their opinions by modeling positive communication, guiding them to appreciate other people’s point-of-view, teaching them to respect others and to control their emotions, responding effectively to patterns and triggers, understanding stages of brain development, and adjusting one’s expectations.

This post will examine how you can identify and correct an argumentative child at home. We will answer questions like when you should start, what strategies are most effective, and what to do when unsuccessful.

Recognize that Not All Arguments are Bad

In trying to correct the behavior of an argumentative child, the parent should recognize that the goal is not to stop their child from reasoning or to hinder their natural curiosity but to improve the quality of their arguments.

Arguing is good. At least, that is what I was taught in Law School. But lawyers are not necessarily argumentative. This is because of the quality of the argument. Bad arguments are aggressive, non-tolerant of other viewpoints, self-involved, and deviant of an objective self-examination. Further, they may lead to actors who do not express any self-control.

While lawyers may argue to win, they do so to share their perspective, reach new insight, or influence you to take their side on an issue they care about. They usually respect the other party, take turns, listen to and consider an opposing view of point, and accept a different viewpoint if convinced.

Argumentative children, on the other hand, don’t argue in the true sense of the word. They fight with words.

How Do you Identify an Argumentative Child?

An argumentative child is quick to quibble about anything and everything. Having a child who challenges everything you say may be exhausting. Many children (and adults) enjoy a good debate from time to time. But when every discussion turns into a dispute, or when they have to have the final word every time, or even when repeated disagreements are followed by nasty comments or bad behavior, it may wear even the most patient parent down.

Below Are Some Key Indicators that You Have an Argumentative Child

  • They are always right, meaning the other party has got to be wrong.
  • Argumentative children will go to great lengths to prove the other party wrong.
  • They will challenge every decision. They will argue about why their brother got more juice, why their siblings have “easier chores,” and why they do not get to choose the movie on movie nights.
  • When you tell an argumentative child, they are wrong. They may interpret this to mean that you are asserting superiority over them.
  • They cut people off when they speak.
  • They have a habit of speaking over people and drowning out everyone else in the room.
  • An argumentative child often comes across as rude because they question everything wholly and vehemently disregard other people’s opinions. Or they make situations awkward.

Strategies to Help you Deal with an Argumentative Child

The not-so-good news about an argumentative child is that they drive you up the wall. They wear you and everyone around them out. But there is good news, changing your child’s behavior using simple strategies is possible.

But first things first: why are some kids so argumentative? Why do they always need something to go their way? The first step toward changing your child’s attitude is to understand it.

Below are 8 Tips on How to Deal with an Argumentative Child

Start Early to Correct your Child’s Behavior

According to psychologists, arguing is a learned behavior that can be corrected. Rather than throwing your hands up in despair, start to teach, correct, and support. Starting early, teach your child how to be respectful of other people, listen and take turns, and appreciate other people’s point-of-view.

Understand your Child’s Behavior

According to psychologists, argumentative behavior may result from habit, narcissistic characteristics, lack of confidence, or may even be a self-defense mechanism.

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To understand how to deal with an argumentative child, we must also understand what drives the child to be confrontational. What exactly are we looking at here?

Ask the following questions.

  • Does your child appear to be depressed? Is arguing a way for them to get you to leave them alone? Some children prefer to be alone when they are struggling with psychological problems.
  • If your child suddenly becomes argumentative or seems to pick fights for no apparent reason, this might indicate something is wrong. Are they having social problems at school? Being argumentative may turn out to be a cry for help.
  • Does your child feel that their life is out of control, so having the final word in arguments is a way for them or them to get some sense of control?
  • When arguing, does your child’s mood spiral out of control quickly (a possible sign of high stress)?
  • Do you feel you are treading on eggshells because the slightest thing can cause an argument?

Eliminate Yourself as the Problem

How do I make my daughter feel loved?

Remember the adage, “It takes two to tango.” Have you ever stopped to think, what if your child is not argumentative? What if YOU are the problem?

Ask yourself a few questions to determine that you are not the problem. Is your child being argumentative because they are modeling your behavior or defending themselves against it? Do you argue blindly, cut people off, speak over others and do whatever it takes to win an argument?

Also, do you find that other people seem argumentative the way your child seems to you? You probably exhibit the same behavior toward others if the problem is you.

If you are the problem, it will be fruitless to try dealing with your argumentative child until you have dealt with your problem.

Teach Your Child to Express Themselves Respectfully

A show of respect is the difference in the quality of arguments.

Some behavior traits that seem “problematic” and are frowned upon in childhood become strengths as your child grows older. For instance, if a “defiant” child is taught to express themselves respectfully, they may become an adult who is not afraid to disagree respectfully.

Your child needs to express themselves, but they must learn to do so respectfully and understand that others, too, have their own opinions, which may differ from theirs. Teach your child to debate, not argue, and express themselves without offending others.

Different types of phrases that could work include:

“I can’t talk to you when you’re shouting,” “I’m not asking you to agree with me,” “I will only talk to you when you are calm,” and “don’t talk to me like that.”

Once you say this, avoid engaging your child in further conversation by keeping silent or walking away.

Their behavior will not change overnight, but if you don’t give in and keep repeating the exact words every time they manifest the same behavior, they will eventually learn to express themselves differently.

Establish Explicit Ground Rules and Consequences

Argumentative conduct in a child has the unintended consequence of impacting the entire family and every family choice. If your child’s behavior is exhausting, you may find yourself less available to your other children. Or, if every family choice is contentious because your argumentative youngster “disagrees” with any decision they did not make, family friction might occur, making family occasions difficult rather than fun. Establishing clear rules regarding your child’s siblings or the entire family is also critical.

For example, if you’re having a family movie night, let each youngster choose a movie to watch. If your children help you pick family meals, set aside a day for each of them to do so. Regarding your child’s overall behavior, it is critical to establish rules that specifically address their argumentative behavior. For instance, your child should understand any disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated or will be met with an agreed consequence.

Unacceptable Behaviors While Arguing Include the Following:

  • Shouting
  • Aggression
  • Intimidation
  • Breaking objects or destroying property

It is always a bad idea to set the consequences of your child’s behavior on the spur of the moment. They need to understand the implications of their behavior in advance clearly. You must consistently apply those consequences if you want their behavior to change.

Become More Aware of Patterns and Triggers

Some children may be more argumentative at a particular time or on specific days. For instance, you may have a child more susceptible to conflict at the beginning of every week. With this knowledge, you should prepare to meet their energy at certain days or times. Also, some children are triggered by the presence of a particular person in specific places.

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Some young adults may become upset when plans change and thus resort to arguing. This is an example of a trigger. If your youngster grows agitated when plans change, you should have strategies to deal with their behavior ahead of time because plans change all the time.

For instance, if you had planned to attend a specific event and your plans changed, let your child select a different activity as a consolation. This will assist in disarming your youngster and reducing their urge to quarrel.

Understand Brain Development and Adjust Your Expectations

Your child’s brain is not fully formed. Not by a long shot. Even if you have an older teen, you should not expect them to be able to think like an adult in every situation. You must manage and adapt your expectations.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thinking and responding. In a research paper on the maturation of the adolescent brain, Mariam Arian and colleagues state that the brain’s prefrontal cortex has a developmental spurt during puberty, which continues developing through adolescence and young adulthood until age 25.

The limbic system of the brain governs emotions. In children, it is over-developed when compared with the prefrontal cortex. Also, the connections with the prefrontal cortex are not fully formed and optimized.

This means that children and teenagers are much more likely to react to difficult or triggering situations rather than consider carefully before choosing a rational response.

This means that while you should start early to correct their behavior, cut them a bit more slack than an adult.

A Few Final Words

In this post, we have taken a good look at effective strategies for how to deal with an argumentative child. Understanding that arguments are not all bad and guiding your child to improve their arguments’ quality may be the best way to help your child.

If you enjoyed this post, you might find how to communicate with my grown son interesting.

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Christine Udeani, JD
Christine Udeani, JD

Christine is a dedicated mother of six young adults and a teenager who has made significant contributions to the online world through her writing and entrepreneurship. She attended Northwestern University, Strayer University, Thomas M Cooley School of Law, NWCULAW, and holds degrees in business, Law, and Communications. She shares tips and experiences to help young adults and their parents with this generation’s issues.

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