…she’ll probably ask you for a drink of juice. And if you give her juice, she’ll ask for ice cream. And if you give her the ice cream, she’ll ask for that overpriced Disney Princess doll. And…the list goes on. Kids never seem satisfied with one thing; it’s always “I want, I want” (or, if you ask them to clean their room, “I don’t want”).
When the Maiden was an infant, I read an article by a guy who’d taught his children how to argue properly using principles of logic. Since the Man and I are both lawyers, we knew that genetically, the Maiden was doomed. The idea of a child—who by definition is already going to butt heads with her parents—actually arguing by attempting to persuade, was appealing.
Fast-forward two and a half years. Our little baby had grown into an active, strong-willed toddler whose conversations revolved around what she wanted to eat, play, or do regardless of what I’d told her. Trying to reason with this three-year-old was futile, and she and I seemed to constantly be engaging in verbal spats.
One day, in exasperation after an unproductive back-and-forth about something she allegedly needed in order to (kick, scream, punch, thrash) survive, I shouted, “Stop arguing about it!”
And then it hit me. I’d always wanted her to argue, and she was trying to, but her method consisted of raising her voice higher and higher (accompanied by the occasional kicking for extra emphasis). It was time for the Maiden to learn to persuade.
We started slowly. When she demanded a cookie, I didn’t tell her no. “I see you want a cookie,” I said. “But I don’t want you to eat a cookie, because we don’t eat cookies in the middle of the afternoon. If you can give me one good reason why I should give you a cookie anyways, I will let you have one.”
She was taken aback. I hadn’t argued with her, I’d left the ball in her court—and she had no idea what to do with it. She couldn’t give me a good enough reason (“because I want one” doesn’t hold water with me), so she didn’t get a cookie. Later that afternoon, she asked for a cookie again, and again I told her she had to convince me first. She thought for a few minutes and then said, “I have a good idea!” (In our house, that’s become a code word for “I’m about to attempt to convince you.”) Her plan: she would get the cookie after she ate her supper. Impressive reasoning from a three-year-old, I thought; and she got the cookie after dinner.
That’s not to say I capitulate every time she makes a good attempt. It has to be both a good argument and one that sufficiently convinces me. There have been times when she’s offered compromises which I haven’t accepted (no, you can’t have the cookie after your nap either). Sometimes, she makes second or third attempts at compromises, and they often end up being what I originally offered. Sometimes, she can’t think of a good enough argument, and drops the demand.
We take this reasoning to the store too. When the “gimmes” strike, she has to convince me to buy that toy/hooded towel/book, or it goes back on the shelf.
It’s an unusual tactic, but it’s been beneficial. The Maiden’s become a lot less whiny. Kids can tell when you respect them, and she knows that she has a hand in decision-making now. It may not be a large part, and her offers may get rejected a lot. But she’s empowered because it’s no longer all me; she knows that she has the opportunity to persuade me to accept her point of view. I may not accept her offer—and she knows I have that right—but at least she’s had the chance to make the offer. Does she get upset when I reject her proposals? Sometimes, yes. Often, she’ll come back with a compromise, and then another one—sometimes, identical with my original offer (I let her think she came up with it on her own). Regardless, by then, she’s probably been sufficiently distracted from her additional want, and drops the whole thing.
It’s been helpful to me, too. I don’t have to stress myself about arguing her down. It’s up to her to persuade me, which means the whole topic is her concern, and not mine. As a mom, it’s easy to get bogged down in those daily disagreements. Putting the burden of persuasion, so to speak, on her, is very freeing.
Will our tactics change as she gets older—and cleverer? Of course. Eventually, she’s going to want to know our reasons for telling her she can’t do/have something, and we’ll give them. But the same deal. If she can overcome our objections in a way that satisfies us, we’ll work with her. Until then, though—sorry. As a teenager, she may think our reasons are ridiculous, but she’ll still know that if she can figure out a good compromise or counterargument, we’ll be willing to consider it.
I’m sure all you readers with teens are shaking your heads and saying, “Little does she know!” Fair enough! I might be changing my tune in ten years. In the meantime, though I’m hoping that the Maiden learns some skills that will benefit her for the rest of her life.