How to Have Productive Discussions (Not Arguments!) with Your Child

Written by: Kate Smith, M.A.
How to Have Productive Discussions (Not Arguments!) with Your Child

Every parent has been there: You start with what seems like a simple request or question, and then, suddenly, you are in a screaming match with your child. How did it escalate to this?

First and foremost, remember who is really in charge (Hint: That’s you!). Second, that is a little mirror standing in front of you – whatever you do, they will do back, plus a little something extra. Third, assess the situation before acting. Watch your child’s body language and behavior; if they are focused elsewhere, they may not be processing what you are saying, leading you to believe they are “not listening”. If they seem tense and agitated, they are likely feeling frustrated and unheard.

Parents have expectations, but so do kids, and those two often do not match. This is where skilled negotiations can be helpful when ultimatums have led to arguments.

For example, acknowledge their desire to continue playing video games or watching YouTube. Work out an arrangement for them to continue the desired activity after completing the requested task. Most importantly, follow through with your end of the deal. This shows them that you respect their wishes and what they find important. Finally – and possibly the most difficult to achieve – is the management of your own emotions. After taking on a full day, coming home to a child who continues to leave their bookbag on the kitchen table and dirty dishes in the sink can feel like the final straw. Having to ask them to turn off the device and do their homework or bathe seems like a conversation you have on repeat. Getting another call from the school about unacceptable behavior and pleading with them to tell you why. All these situations lead parents to heightened emotions. When children see that, they are now faced with handling their own emotions, feelings, or perspective on the situation, and now they must navigate parents’ emotions (i.e. stay out of trouble and get to continue choice activities).

Instead of everyone meeting at an elevated emotional level, try taking a few deep breaths, consider your words, and remain calm. Read your child’s expressions and body language. Begin the conversation with a calm tone and listen when they reply in the same tone. Repeat back to them what you have heard, validate, then let them know your perspective or expectations. Thank them for expressing themselves in a productive way.

Perhaps one of the longest-running jokes around parenting is wishing children came with an instruction manual. While many educated professionals and experienced parents have produced very helpful content, the secret has been right under our noses the whole time. While it is not written down in a book or a blog, or addressed in a weekly podcast, it is being broadcast to us loud and clear. Your child is the key to great parenting. By watching intently, listening without interrupting or assuming, and separating our emotions from the situation, a parent can be given the exact information they seek from their very own child.