How can I stop my child from arguing every time I ask her to do something?
A family came to see me recently with a similar problem. Megan Williams (names have been changed) is a 10-year-old girl who has a mind of her own and isn't afraid to use it. With her quick thinking and extra helping of spunk, she'll have no problem becoming a successful trial lawyer. While this all bodes well for her future career prospects, it makes for rough going at home. Megan's mom, Bonnie, can't figure out why Megan argues about everything. Even something as simple as brushing her teeth can require the negotiation skills of a professional mediator.
"I've told her to stop arguing a thousand times," Bonnie sighs. "I just want her to listen."
Webster's Dictionary tells us that the word discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means learner. We often think that discipline means the same thing as punishment. But it
doesn't. It means learning, teaching, instructing, guiding. That's why Proverbs tells us to "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6).
Let's use a musical example. If Bonnie wanted Megan to learn how to play the piano, she'd find a good piano teacher. Between lessons, Megan would practice her new skills. With continued instruction and practice, Megan's piano skills would gradually improve.
This is what happens when you remember that discipline is about learning. Bonnie wants Megan to be a better listener. In other words, she wants Megan to be a fast listener, not a slow listener.
It works like this: When a parent asks a child to do something, he says, "Okay, Mom," or respectfully asks a question. Then he does whatever's been asked. This definition of fast listening applies to almost any request you make of your kids. You want them to respond quickly and respectfully. If they have a question, you want them to ask it politely.
Just like a piano teacher, we need to teach our kids new listening skills and then practice them regularly. Sit down together and explain the "Fast Listening" plan. Keep it simple. Then, spend a few minutes practicing the plan together through role play. For example, pretend that you're asking your child to turn off the tv, and let her practice saying, "Okay, Mom," and turning the tv off. Give her a big hug and tell her she did an awesome job. Then pretend you're asking her to pick up a couple toys, and so on. Spend about five minutes practicing three or four times a week. Make sure the practices are fun, fast-paced, and filled with positive attention. Here are a few other ideas for reviewing the plan:
•Talk about past negative situations (how the Fast Listening plan could have been used).
•Talk about past positive situations (how the Fast Listening plan was used).
•Review the positive results of the Fast Listening plan.
Eventually, you'll see your child begin to master this simple plan and you can practice less often. The main idea is that you're teaching her how to handle everyday situations in a way that honors God by treating others respectfully. Now that's biblical discipline.
Todd Cartmell is a child psychologist and popular workshop speaker. He is the author of Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry and The Parent Survival Guide (both from Zondervan). Visit his website at www.drtodd.net.
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