Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Search This Site

How To Get Your Child To Stop Arguing

All behavior is purposeful, and as such, it is critical that you understand your youngster’s goal. Everything our kids say and do has a purpose. At its most basic level, your youngster’s focus is to have some significance and establish a place in his various environments.

A well-adjusted youngster has found his way toward social acceptance by cooperating with the requirements of the group and by making his own useful contribution to it. The misbehaving youngster is still trying, in a mistaken way, to feel important in his own world. For example, a kid who has never been allowed to dress himself (because the mother/father is in a hurry), or who has not been allowed to help around the house ("you're not big enough to set the table"), may lack the feeling that he is a useful, contributing member of the family, and might feel important only when arousing a mother/father's anger and annoyance with misbehavior.

Most kids are not aware of the goals or purposes of their behavior. But their behavior, while appearing senseless and illogical to adults, makes complete sense in terms of his own perception of his place in the family, school and community. As such, when children misbehave, they are frequently trying to fulfill one of the following four primary goals:
  1. Attention-getting— She wants attention and service. We, as moms and dads, respond by feeling annoyed and that we need to remind and coax her.
  2. Display of inadequacy— She wants to be left alone with no demands made upon her. We respond by feeling despair (e.g., “I don't know what to do!").
  3. Power— She wants to be the boss. We respond by feeling provoked and get into a power contest with her (e.g., “You can't get away with this!").
  4. Revenge— She wants to hurt us. We respond by feeling deeply hurt (e.g., “I'll get even!").
If, as you read over these primary goals, you found the behavior and the parental response resonating with situations and events in your life, you have probably discovered the goal or purpose of your youngster's misbehavior. And once you understand the goal or purpose of a behavior, you can use the following principle to effectively change it:

==> Important Principle: If a given behavior isn’t fulfilling its goal or purpose, every youngster will opt for a different behavior.

Once we know why our children are doing what they are doing, and once we understand the goal or purpose of a given behavior, we are given a tremendous lever for inducing behavioral change. Let’s look at an example so that you can understand what I am saying here…

A lot of family’s that I have worked with over the years presented with a common complaint: “My youngster won’t listen to me anymore. Any time I try to get him to do something, all he wants to do is argue. My home has become a war zone and I just can’t stand living this way anymore.”

At this point, my question to the mother/father is this, “How do you react when your youngster becomes belligerent and begins arguing with you?” In most cases, the parent says he/she gets into an argument with the youngster. There is a “debate” with the situation escalating to the point that the mother/father gets fed up and says, “Go ahead, do whatever you want. You’re not going to listen to me anyway.”

Referring back to the list of goals of misbehavior listed above, why is this kid - or any kid - choosing to escalate the situation and argue with their mother/father? Isn’t that a perfect example of a kid who is acting up in order to take power and get what he wants? And by choosing to engage in the process, the mother/father is playing right into the kid’s hands.

Now what do you think would happen if the mother/father, rather than taking the bait, simply refused to get angry and refused to argue? What would happen if the mother/father said, “I’m not going to fight with you, and I’m not comfortable even discussing this with you until you calm down.”

First of all, the kid would probably have a heart attack because this isn’t the way he is used to doing business. Mom/dad has done something different, acting in an unpredictable way, and that is very confusing to the youngster. Predictably, once the initial shock wears off, the youngster might redouble his efforts to get the mother or father to engage. But what would happen if mom or dad held the line and refused to argue and fight with the youngster? What would happen if the parent went so far as to suggest that the youngster needed to go to another part of the house and come back when he has been able to get himself under control?

With a kid that is used to playing the anger card to get his way, he is likely to refuse this suggestion and continue to try to escalate the parent. This is the way he has always played before! But what would happen if mom continued to stick to her guns and withdraw from the situation? What would happen if she refused to have the conversation until her youngster spoke to her in an appropriate and civil manner? Right! Her youngster is going to have to change his behavior.

Let's use the example of ping pong. What would happen if one of the players put down her ping pong paddle? Game over …right!? Well, the same is true in terms of our children and their negative behaviors. If we refuse to engage, to tolerate and respond to the negative behavior, they are going to have to do something different. They are going to have to select another behavior in order to achieve their goal. And as moms and dads, we can go a long way toward guiding this choice into more appropriate and respectful areas.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Teens


Christina said...

I have been using this technique for almost a week now with our son and it is soooo true. When you talk back to your child it is an automatic debate which then turns into a heated argument. I have been refraining from the emotional hurt and just realize he is a immature kid !!!! and I am not wearing my emotions on my sleeve which is keeping me level headed and I keep repeating "I am not going to argue with you" IT'S WORKING THANK YOU THANK YOU. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS OUR HOUSE HAS NOT BEEN IN SO MUCH PEACE.

Anonymous said...

Thanks heaps mark it was good to finally find a place i could go to and get questions answered, my 4 year old son was dignosied with odd and adah about a month ago, and i'm still learning about the condition. I'm also finding it really hard socially to interact my son with other people as they dont like to be around him as he is very defiant and when i explane his condition they dont understand or they dont belive in it so i try and keep him inside and away from people and it is really depressing for him and me.
thanks shannon

Anonymous said...

My teenage son won't conform at school, barely conforms at home he seems to be getting worse he has an aggressive temper and shouts at the top of his voice and has started swearing at me when i try to speak to him about his homework or letters from school about his time keeping or behaviour, he speaks back to his teachers and seems to have no respect for adults, I am considering seeking help from a psychologist as I don't know what to do he will be 15 at the end of the month and he is the 3rd child of 3. I am concerned what will happen when he turns 16 as he keeps telling me that I won't be able to tell him what to do also tonight he pushed me when he was angry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support Mark,

Although we have engaged counsellors here, to be honest we are finding their support very lack lustre.

We do very much appreciate all of your support & honest advice & the tool kit of resources that you offer have really got us in a position that we feel we are in much better control than we were. Unfortunately at the moment we are, our friends are & also her friends are all looking at Danielle & saying “who are you” we just do not get what is motivating her & what will pull her out of this – time will tell.

Any way thank you for your support & being so prompt in responding to my emails we are at this time very reliant on your help in keeping us on track & navigating our way through!

Anonymous said...

We adopted our son at his birth. His birth mother was a 13 year old drug addicted alcoholic. Not certain this information is absolutely relevant to my son’s situation but our thoughts are it could be. Matt has always been defiant when it comes to authority figures, especially, teachers, his mother and myself.

During his early years growing up on Kansas City Matt was diagnosed as being ADHD and Bipolar. Those doctors had him on so much medication he was drugged into a stupor until he got use to the drug and then they seemed to have no effect. (Adderall, Concerta are just two of the medications).

We never really thought he was bipolar but did recognize he has anger and authority issues. The doctors here in Colorado more or less confirmed this as well. Matt will no longer take medication because he doesn’t feel it helps and actually makes him worse. He loves the outdoors, plays ice hockey and baseball. He generally is a great kid until he hears the word “NO”!

We don’t have much money left but would do anything and pay anything to provide him the help he needs. There are even a couple of different schools we thought about. One is for troubled teens and the other is a Christian based school located in the mountains. In the later school he would be involved in hands on type of education and even travel to other countries twice a year in a study program. He has been in trouble with the police for fighting. He is home schooled through a state program but refuses to do his school work. He probably has an above average IQ but doesn’t want to be bothered with studying. Actually, he seems to hate his mom and I but the thought of going away to school seems like a jail sentence to him and he would want no part of it.

It is to the point that he runs the house and he seems to expect us to cater to hi needs. I love my son more than anything else in this world but there are times I just don’t like him too much.

Join Our Facebook Support Group

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Online Parenting Coach - Syndicated Content