How to Deal With an Argumentative Child

Nothing irritates and angers a parent more than dealing with an argumentative child. Most parents don’t even know how to deal with a child who resorts to arguing. Here are some pointers.

By Arun Sharma

How to Deal With an Argumentative Child

After a child is born, parents are eager to listen to their little one grow up and start speaking. And, when the child utters her first word, it fills the entire family with joy. Everyone wants to hear her speak more and more.

But, if the same child begins to constantly argue with her parents, and all those around her, it spells trouble for everyone. Most adults deal with an argumentative child by getting angry and raising their voices to order her to ‘shut up’.

However, such an approach never solves the problem. It just provides a temporary respite. What parents need to do when dealing with an argumentative child is to first understand why their child argues and then take steps to correct the situation.

Why do children argue?

Parents should keep in mind that their child’s argumentative behaviour is not influenced by feelings of animosity, hatred or a sense of grudge. Entering into an argument is a child’s natural tendency of continuously testing and pushing her boundaries. It can also be the result of a child’s poor communicating and coping skills.

How should parents deal with an argumentative child

1. Listen to your child: Most of the time, a child resorts to arguments to forcefully put his point across. He does so because he isn’t sure if his opinion will be heard or taken into consideration. So, listen patiently to your child to assure him that his concerns will be respected and taken seriously. This will help him put forth his thoughts in a calm and composed manner.

2. Offer choices: Most parents tend to dismiss their child’s views and impose their own on her. This causes the child to raise her voice and make her point using arguments. Instead of dismissing whatever your child has said, offer her options. This will work for both of you. While it will make her feel that she has a range of options to choose from, it will allow you to retain control as you will be the one deciding what options to give.

The article, ‘Using Choice and Preference to Promote Improved Behavior’, on the website of Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning lists the following takeaways from offering choices to children.

  • Increased motivation
  • Increased attention / on-task behaviour
  • Increased learning
  • Increased socialisation
  • Decreased challenging behaviour

3. Explain the reason: Most parents adopt the ‘I know what is best for you’ attitude when dealing with their child. They seldom care to explain why they have taken or imposed a particular decision. As a result, the child is never able to understand the logic behind his parents’ decision and resorts to arguments. To make your child accept your decision without arguments, it is necessary that you explain to him the reasons that prompted you to take the decision.

4. Do not enter into an argument: Do not counter your child’s argument with your own. Instead, explain your position clearly to her and move away. In their article, ‘Negotiating with Kids: When You Should and Shouldn’t’, Kim Abraham, LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, say, “When we make parenting decisions in reaction to a child’s arguments and disputes, everyone loses.” They further say, “A parent has the ultimate authority and sometimes the answer is going to be No. You don’t have to be a dictator but at the same time, it’s not a democracy. Remember: as much as your kids might try to tell you otherwise, all family member ‘votes’ are not equal!”

5. Set rules and consequences: Depending upon the age of your child, set rules for your child to follow and the consequences for breaking the rules. The rules should be reasonable and the consequences should be enforceable. Explain both clearly to your child. Keep in mind that your argumentative child will try to enter into an argument after he breaks a rule and fears facing the consequences. During such situations, do not negotiate. Warn your child that if he doesn’t stop arguing, you may be forced to increase the consequences.

Every child likes to have his way. While this desire is partly a result of natural human trait, a part of it stems from the urge to have the same power that adults enjoy. In case of a child, arguing is a way of trying to wrest power from adults, usually his parents. Therefore, parents should remember that instead of trying to enter into a power struggle with their little one, they should exert their authority and make their child follow the rules set.

Healthy argument is good

Sometimes, it is better to allow your child to argue. For, it will:

  • Improve her skills in convincing others
  • Enhance her powers of persuasion
  • Aid her in presenting her case effectively by applying logical thinking
  • Help her learn how to defend her stand, when she is in the right

These skills will help her to handle herself better when it comes to situations which warrant engaging in a healthy argument.

As a final note, here’s an important tip for parents –

In his article, ‘Arguing With Your Child? Five Things You Shouldn’t Do’ on EmpoweringParents.com, James Lehman, MSW, says, “It’s important to establish the kind of relationship you want with your child. There are different, more effective parenting roles that can help you get there. You can go from being the ‘screamer’ to being the ‘teacher’, the ‘nagger’ to becoming the ‘coach’, or the ‘perfectionist’ to the ‘problem-solver’.”

Remember, the ‘You scream, I scream’ approach will never work. Learn to be calm and composed in your parenting approach.


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