Parenting 101

Parenting skills

Discussion, disagreement, argument, or fight?


Has a discussion with your child ever escalated into a disagreement, then into an argument, and finally into an out and out fight? Because these occasions are often uncomfortable, and can be destructive to your relationship with your child, it is important for you to teach him how to engage in positive discussions and to handle disagreements. These skills will help produce better conversational outcomes in your family and will help him better relate to other people .

Begin by helping your child understand the different kinds of conversations people have. This will help him to recognize what kind of conversation is appropriate in a particular situation, and to participate positively in it.

The most common way of relating to others is through casual conversations, which consist of informal exchanges of ideas. They are friendly and uncomplicated. For example, you ask your child "How are things going?" She says, "Fine, but I wish it would snow so I can go skiing." You reply, "The forecast said it will snow later this week." In this conversation, each of you is sharing information on a subject, and there is no need to disagree. It is basically neutral, though it can be infused with warmth or humor in order to make it more enjoyable.

A disagreement is different from a casual conversation. It involves a difference of opinion. For example, your daughter says, "Where did you hear it was going to snow?" You say, "I heard it on the Weather Channel. She replies, "Really, you watch the Weather Channel? is better!" You are disagreeing because you have a difference of opinion. You are not arguing because neither of you feels the need to convince the other of the rightness of your opinion. You can just agree to disagree and go on.

A disagreement turns into an argument when you want to convince the other person that you are right. In this case, in order to be convincing, you must give what you believe to be a valid reason or set of reasons. So, you say, "Actually, I find the Weather Channel is the most accurate. Whenever they predict snow, it happens! I wouldn't go to if I were you." Your daughter responds, "But, it was Accuweather who got the award for being the most accurate weather source, not the Weather Channel!" Now, the two of you are having an argument. Though the word "argument" has a bad reputation, you can gain a greater understanding of things if you both remember to be fair, to give valid reasons for your position and to listen to each other.

Arguments can be scary because they are known to turn into fights. No one likes fights. They are unpleasant confrontations which often involve attacks and insults. Although there is no clear line over which an argument becomes a fight, anytime both people become strongly emotionally involved or start insulting each other, what began as an argument has turned into a fight. This type of conversation is never appropriate and can be avoided by following the rules for a good argument stated above while being sure to avoid insults.

The best way to help your child to negotiate his way through these various levels of interactions is by setting a positive example. Enjoy conversations. Handle your disagreements lightly and your conflicts with reason. When your child disagrees with you, do not respond with anger.

Listen to him respectfully, and be firm in insisting on good reasons. Teach him a few useful phrases, such as, "I see your point, however..." Or, "Since I've listened to your point of view, may I tell you more about what I believe?" Finally, aid him to find common ground between himself and those with whom he disagrees. As you watch him create a world of greater understanding and harmony, you will be glad you did.

Contact Shanti, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a self-actualization and parenting skills coach, at