How to handle children who constantly argue back

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 8:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 6:30pm


My five-year-old daughter has developed a bad habit of arguing with me whenever I refuse her something - anything. She will argue until I put her in her room, but as soon as I let her out, she starts up again. My therapist friend told me that my daughter is trying to manipulate me, to control the relationship. She says if I continue putting my child in her room whenever it happens, the arguing will eventually stop. Do you agree?

As this therapist is a friend, I can answer your question: no, I definitely do not agree. At age five, your daughter's brain has not developed the ability to consciously manipulate someone. That ability does not develop, on average, until the age of 12 or so.

Your daughter is arguing with you for the same three reasons all children argue with their parents. First, you explain yourself. Second, you try to get her to agree with your explanation. Third, she throws down the proverbial gauntlet and you pick it up.

Explanations invite pushback, and pushback is argument. When your daughter asks for something, it's one thing to simply say, "No". It's quite another to go on and on about why you are saying no.

Your objective in this game of back-and-forth is to get your daughter to say what no child has ever said: "Wow, Mum. When you explain yourself like that, I can't help but agree with you. Of course I don't need another doll, and of course need and want are two entirely different things, and of course I have enough dolls as it is. Thank you, Mum, for taking the time to help me understand all of this. You're a really super mum."

Now, that's pretty silly of you to expect that, isn't it?

Finally, you said your daughter has a bad habit of arguing with you. I disagree. It's you who has the bad habit of picking up the gauntlet whenever she throws it down.

The way to not pick up the gauntlet is to say "no" and nothing more. When your daughter demands to know why or why not, say, "Because I said so." And then turn around and walk away, leaving your daughter to stew in her own juices. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were on to something, you know.


Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents at