In an era chock full of entertaining-yet-ineffective arguers shouting on cable news and reality television shows, teaching a child how to argue has never been more important. There are a lot of bad role models on our screen. And though some parents would prefer not to argue — or at minimum win arguments — with their children, teaching argumentation is a long game. Kids who know how to argue effectively will get more of what they want throughout life.
“One of the problems kiddos face is trying to be heard,” says Mike McCurley, a lawyer with the Shackelford firm out of Dallas, focusing on family law. “Being an effective arguer, which is really being effective at reasoning and logic, will help them feel heard even if they don’t get what they want.”
One of the toughest things to teach is how to keep your cool.
Passion is key to being persuasive, but if emotion is the driving force of an argument, it will not be effective. Before arguing for something a child wants, they need to do a little research or simply think through what facts are most compelling. “Once anger takes over, reason goes to the wayside,” McCurley says.
Teach a Child to Argue Effectively
- Don’t allow a child to argue when they are angry. Let them know the discussion can only occur when they are calm.
- Tell children to first state their goal or need.
- Remind children to lay out an argument, answering why having the goal fulfilled is a good idea.
- After hearing the argument repeat it back to them so they feel heard.
- Offer wins or good compromises for calm and compelling arguments.
But parents should also help kids stay focused. Research can create some wide-ranging arguments, says attorney Nicole H. Sodoma, founder of Sodoma Law, a firm with five North Carolina locations.
“An effective argument is one that respects both positions, considers the audience, and maintains a common theme – keeping goals in mind at all times,” Sodoma says. “In litigation, hardly ever do we rely on just one argument to prove a point or to win a case. Balancing your best arguments with your overall goal is just one part of the art of practicing law, and often parenthood.”
Sodoma has three boys at home, and the arguments typically range from grades at school to whether or not they can make certain purchases. She says it’s best that arguments stay discussions instead of fights.
“Though it is easy to define these moments as arguments, or disagreements, I believe that what defines these discussions as effective is that they result in negotiations and compromise to reach a solution,” she says. Keeping that end result in mind is vital, even if the arguments are sometimes flawed. “When my kids are presenting their case to me, I do enjoy reminding them that if they were on the witness stand, I would have just eaten them for dinner.”
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That lends to a great formula for an argument between child and parent.
McCurley says helping kids with a basic formula can be helpful. State the desire and then lay out a reasoned argument. And parents should answer with a follow of their own: Repeat back what the child wanted and summarize the reasons why they thought it was a good idea. This helps the child feel heard. And then a verdict can be rendered.
“Respect is important, and that means listening for a parent,” McCurley says. “What we’re really talking about is really what my mother tried to tell me my whole life: Practice the Golden Rule in all aspects of life. Speak to people like you’d want to be spoken to. Listen the way you’d want to be listened to.”
Sometimes, making sure a kid feels listened to means rewarding a good argument with a generous compromise or a win.
As children become adolescents, choosing the right medium for an argument is also important. McCurley says effective arguments follow the path where you can take in the most information. Face-to-face is best. Telephone is second best. Texting and e-mail are last resorts.
“Like most things in life,” McCurley says, “the easiest way is rarely the best way.”