McNerney: Dealing with Arguments and Whining

By Neil McNerney, Parenting with Purpose

You’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and your 12-year-old daughter innocently asks, “Can I go over to Julia’s on Friday night?” This seems like a simple request, but the last time you said yes, you later found out that your daughter went over to another friend’s house instead. So, you answer, “No, not this weekend.” Your daughter, naturally, asks, “Why?”

Her simple “why” question is a trap. Whenever you have answered “no” to a request from your child and she then asks why I want you to remember that she doesn’t really want to know why. Try to remember the last time your child responded with, “Well, that make sense. I now understand why you are saying ‘no.’”

The only reason your child is asking “why” is to keep the argument going. She is hoping that she can find a hole in your argument, or possibly even wear you down. When you remind her that last Friday she went to another friend’s house without your permission, her response will be something like, “I forgot to tell you that we were going to Anna’s,” or, “This time, I promise I’ll stay at Julia’s.”

These types of arguments have a predictable pattern. Your child will start with some type of “it’s not my fault” statement, then promise that this time will be different. If neither of those work, she will compare you to other parents with a comment such as, “Every other parent thinks it’s fine that we’re getting together.” When that doesn’t work, she will resort to calling you the worst parent in the world!

Neil McNerney

One of the things I have learned about parenting in these types of situations is that we, as parents, talk too much. We try to explain ourselves and justify our actions too much. The more we try to argue and justify our decision, the more likely it will not go well.

My suggestion? When we have told our kids “no” to something and they ask why, I think we owe them an explanation, but just one explanation. Then, regardless of their response, just reply with, “At any rate, the answer is no.”

Just one sentence: “At any rate, the answer is no.” There is no need to continue to justify your explanation. You have explained why you made your decision. The more you try to explain, the more likely you will end up losing the argument, or possibly losing your temper.

I call this the “broken record technique.” Just like a broken 33 rpm album, it just skips to the same verse over and over again. There is no need to get creative and keep coming up with different responses. “At any rate, the answer is no.”

Your kids, of course, will not like this. If you have been in the habit of getting into arguments about justifying your actions, there will be an adjustment period before they know that you are serious. In the meantime, stay strong and don’t get caught in the trap of justifying your decision over and over.

Do you have any questions about parenting or relationships that you would like me to address in this column? If so, send me an email at: neil@neilmcnerney.com.

[Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor in private practice and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.]

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