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How to Handle a Child Who Always Argues: Effective Strategies

Reading time: 12 minutes
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| Updated on
May 7, 2024
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What you’ll learn

Learn the answer to the pressing question "Why my child argues with everything I say" and get the most effective strategies for dealing with this behavior.

‘My child argues with everything I say’ – a common parenting challenge. In this article, we’ll explore why kids choose to use this weapon against us and what lies beneath the surface of this behavior. Addressing backtalk is not just meant to ease our parenting experience but also to lay the groundwork for respectful, effective communication that will serve children throughout their lives. Read further and get verified practical solutions on how to deal with backtalk firmly and kindly while strengthening the bond between you and your child.

Why My Child Argues With Everything I Say? Understanding the Behavior

‘My child argues with everything I say!’ Most parents get a good share of backtalk from their kids. Ever wondered why it’s so common? The simple answer might be: ‘Because they’ve gotten used to doing it.’ 

When a behavior is repeated and reinforced, it becomes a habit. If you’re constantly in power struggles with your child, this kind of interaction has likely become the norm for your relationship. But don’t worry—there are ways to reverse it. The first step is to understand where it all began. Taking a closer look at what could’ve started this pattern might prove effective. The root cause could point to their developmental stage, their growing autonomy, or a cry for having their needs met. 

We often discuss the 3 Basic Psychological Needs in our articles. Backtalk is usually a sign of a hindered Need for Autonomy. They want to do something, but you won’t allow it. Rules are a vital part of parenting, but the way they are enforced might sometimes lead to backtalk and power struggles. ‘My child disagrees with everything I say’ shouldn’t become the norm for your relationship. There are ways to turn this around. 

1. Developmental Stages and Argumentation

The Need for Autonomy is more pronounced in some stages of life. This need is vividly displayed when a toddler stomps their feet, refusing to move until they get what they want. And it’s not just toddlers; teenagers often show similar behaviors. 

We must recognize these behaviors as healthy parts of a child’s development and adapt our response. Children will naturally push boundaries and question limits. It’s their way of exploring the world and understanding their place within it. 

Our reaction to these challenges can set the tone for either conflict or collaboration. For example, ‘My child argues with everything I say but is very respectful of my partner.’ Some children may seem at odds with one of their parents or both; yet maintain functional relationships with other adults or the other way around. Good with parents but disrespectful of other adults in their lives. 

We need to switch our mindset from saying No to saying, ‘You want this? Great! Let’s see how we can achieve it within the agreed-upon rules.’ This is how we can transform any battle into a learning opportunity. 

See a tantrum from your toddler like this: ‘What a great opportunity to teach my child something valuable.’ instead of ‘My toddler fights me on everything; how should I fight back?’. This will put you more in control than other authoritarian approaches.

2. Seeking Independence and Autonomy

Problem: “My child argues with everything I say.” The key question here is: How can we navigate this challenge without constant conflict?

As children grow, they want to be more independent. Their journey is not just about physical milestones, gaining strength, or mastering new abilities; it’s deeply rooted in psychological development as well. Children begin to think independently, forming their own ideas and opinions. Naturally, their eagerness to put these ideas into practice can sometimes clash with the boundaries we set as parents. It’s worth noting that children often have both the time and the energy to challenge these limits, unlike most adults. 

For example, a child might insist on wearing mismatched clothes to school because it’s fun and it makes them feel good. Being ridiculous is not in their mind frame, although it might be in yours. Or a teenager might want to redecorate their room in a way that seems unconventional. These are typical scenarios where a child’s desire for autonomy can test parental boundaries. 

My child argues with everything I say - Upset teen tightly pulling the hood of her blouse over head and face while the mother tries to offer comfort

Credits: Pexels

The true test comes from viewing every act of independence not as a challenge to authority but as an opportunity for our children to practice making decisions for themselves. By focusing on guiding rather than controlling, we might encourage our children to develop into confident, independent thinkers.

3. Communicating Unmet Needs

We see this even in us as adults. When we try to express our needs or emotions, the process isn’t always as clear-cut as we’d like. Sometimes, we act in ways that contradict what we truly need or want. For example, we might pick a fight with someone we care about when what we’re really seeking is closeness and affection. Or we might push someone away to see if they’ll make the effort to come back to us. Our strategies and actions don’t always align with our actual desires.

This is even more pronounced when it comes to children. Particularly young ones who can’t articulate their needs clearly. ‘My toddler fights me on everything’ could cover something greater. For instance, if a child is throwing a tantrum because they can’t have a toy they want, it might be tempting to think they’re just being spoiled. However, the reasons behind a tantrum or an emotional outburst are often more varied and deep-seated than that. 

On a deeper level, it could mean more to them than just not getting the toy. It could be about feeling frustrated because they can’t make themselves heard and understood. It could also be a sign that they’re tired, overwhelmed, hungry, or simply bored. ‘My child disagrees with everything I say’ could be a sign they have a bone to pick with you from the last unresolved conflict. Always look beyond the obvious to improve your response.

👉 Discover effective ways to manage sibling conflicts! Read ‘Why Do Siblings Fight? How to Successfully Manage and Resolve Conflicts as a Parent.

3 Communication Strategies

Mother lovingly holding her daughter’s hands and making eye contact while offering explanations

Credits: Pexels

We might think that we engage with our kids just enough. We explain things, we guide and set healthy boundaries. However, in most cases, this could feel like a one-lane street for kids. When we only communicate to instruct, we might sabotage our children’s ability to think things through for themselves. They might become dependent on our decisions or fight us to get some leverage in making their own. It turns into a battle, and ‘my child argues with everything I say’ becomes the new reality.

Our efforts should be pointed at making them feel part of the journey. Nurturing responsibility and accountability while allowing enough space for learning by trial and error and through hands-on experience. Here is how you can use communication to teach and connect with your kids:

1. Active Listening

Active listening isn’t just about hearing your child’s words; it’s about engaging with them fully. It’s about showing that you value their thoughts and feelings and about creating a safe space for them to express themselves. Active listening can transform the parent-child relationship. It encourages children to open up and share more about their lives. 

Here’s an example: Your child is struggling with their homework and starts complaining about how hard it is, maybe even throwing down their pencil in frustration. Instead of immediately getting irritated by their reaction, stating, ‘My child disagrees with everything I say’ take a moment to acknowledge their feelings. 

Say something like, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated with this assignment. Tell me more about it.” This simple act of validation and the invitation to talk about it can help defuse the frustration and open up a conversation about how they might approach the problem differently. You might get to the root cause of their frustration, which could even be unrelated to their homework.

2. Empathetic Responses

The most effective approach when a child is arguing or acting out is to show empathy. This means trying to see the world from their perspective and understand the feelings behind their words and actions. Importantly, showing empathy doesn’t necessarily mean you must solve the problem immediately. Sometimes, just being there to listen can make a world of difference.

Instead of immediately trying to quiet down a toddler’s tantrum or reason with your teen, taking a moment to acknowledge their feelings can be powerful. You might say, “I see you’re really upset about not getting what you want. It’s hard to want something and not be able to have it, isn’t it?” This kind of empathetic response validates their feelings and shows that you’re trying to understand their perspective, which can often be enough to diffuse the situation. 

They learn that it’s okay to have strong feelings and that expressing them in a safe environment will be met with understanding, not dismissal. This fosters a deeper connection between parent and child and lays the groundwork for more open and effective communication.

3. Non-Confrontational Language

It’s important to distinguish between the behavior and the child. When your child acts out, address the specific behavior that’s problematic, explaining why it’s unacceptable and what you expect instead. However, make it clear that while you disapprove of the behavior, you still love and value them as a person. This can help your child understand the impact of their actions and learn from their mistakes without feeling rejected or unloved.

Dad comforting worried daughter 

Credits: Pexels

Judging or lecturing has the opposite effect. Consider a situation where your child has lied about completing their homework. Rather than jumping to accusations or expressing disappointment in them as a person, you could address the behavior directly while emphasizing your trust and love. “I noticed you didn’t finish your homework as you said. It’s really important to be honest because trust is vital. Let’s figure out a plan together for getting your homework done. I know you can do great things when you put your mind to it, and I love you no matter what.”

Judging or lecturing a child for misbehavior often leads to feelings of shame and inadequacy, which can have the opposite effect of what’s intended. Instead of learning from their mistakes, children may become more focused on hiding their actions to avoid judgment, or they might start to believe they are inherently bad, damaging their self-esteem.

How To Deal with Resistance 

We often struggle to maintain our cool when faced with backtalk or defiance. It’s easy for emotions to run high and situations to escalate quickly. We push back to stand our ground: “My child argues with everything I say. I won’t allow it.” It’s almost automatic to switch into this defense mode, seeking to reassert our authority and control over the situation. However, when our interactions with our children turn into a battle of wills, focusing on who’s right or wrong, the result can be a confusing and frustrating experience for both parties. The child may become more resistant, refusing to cooperate, making it challenging to foster a meaningful connection. 

The ultimate goal isn’t to avoid all arguments but to handle them in a way that strengthens your relationship with your child instead of bringing more damage. Here’s how you can do this:

1. Remain Calm and Patient

We often expect our kids to listen to us and change their behavior right away. We think that our role as authority figures should do the trick. Probably more important is to remember that their brains are still under construction. They might not be fully ready to control their behavior or think deeply about their actions until their mid-twenties. Our brains are more developed as adults, so we should be better at handling these situations. We must use this advantage to help and teach our kids, not just to be in charge.

👉 Learn why it’s important for parents to set boundaries! Check out “Setting Boundaries in Parenting: Why Parents Should Not Be Friends with Their Child” for helpful advice.

When your child talks back, and it makes you angry, it’s a good idea not to deal with the problem right away. Feeling angry can make our brains switch to ‘fight mode’, which means we might not think things through properly. Trying to fix the problem while feeling this way could hurt our relationship with our child. 

Young family of four taking a moment to relax and meditate

Credits: Pexels

It’s better to take a moment to cool down first. If you need to, leave the room to calm down. This shows your child that it’s better to come back and talk about the problem when everyone is calm and ready to listen. You are modeling a behavior they could pick on.

2. Avoid Power Struggles

Power struggles often start when we react with anger or frustration. Fighting for power can make both you and your child feel like you’re under attack, leading to even more resistance from both sides. No real communication or problem-solving is happening when everyone is on the defensive. 

It’s common to think, “My child argues with everything I say,” and feel like you need to prove you’re in charge. This reaction is natural, but it actually shows that we can be just as stubborn as our kids. Responding on impulse can make conflicts exhausting and unproductive.

Instead of spending all that energy on a power struggle, it’s better to talk about problems when both you and your child are feeling calm and connected. Studies have found that solving disagreements this way is more effective and has long-lasting benefits. When children feel safe, they’re more willing to open up and work with you.

3. Redirect Negative Behavior

Sometimes, we think about using rewards or tricks to fix our children’s behavior quickly. It’s okay; we’ve all considered it at some point. These strategies might seem like an easy way to solve problems when they’re small. But let’s think about the future. 

Using rewards, tricks, and even punishments too often can prove ineffective long-term. As they get older, our influence on them gets smaller. Tricks stop working, rewards need to be bigger, and punishments don’t work the same way because you can’t punish a 16-year-old the way you can a 3-year-old. You might think, “But my toddler fights me on everything.” It’s true, but fighting could become normal in your relationship if you fight back. When they’re 16, those fights could get much more serious.

Instead, try to redirect negative behavior by showing empathy and offering your child choices. If it feels like you’re trying to manipulate them, it’s probably not the right approach. Just pay attention to what’s happening. For example, if your child is upset and causing a scene, you could say, “I see you’re very upset right now. We can stay here until you’re calm, or we can go sit under that tree and talk about what’s wrong to figure out what to do.”

Calm mother holding her preoccupied daughter

Credits: Pexels

The key to success is staying calm yourself. When things get tense, recognize the feelings involved—yours included. You might say, “I see you’re really angry right now, and I’m upset, too. Let’s take a break until we’re both calmer, then we can talk. What should we do in the meantime?”

This approach helps manage the immediate situation and teaches your child valuable skills in dealing with emotions and conflicts more constructively.

Conclusion

In the end, having a child who questions everything isn’t just a challenge; it’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to guide them toward being independent, thoughtful, and caring individuals. With patience, love, and the right approach, the phrase “my child argues with everything I say” can change to “my child and I are learning and growing together.” This journey is about building a strong and loving relationship where both parent and child feel respected and valued.

Unlock a happier family life! Join our  ‘I’m sick of you! How to stop arguing with your partner and kids and work as a team’ parenting masterclass to improve communication with your partner and children. Transform challenges into connections. Sign up now and start your journey to harmony!

More parenting questions? Meet Sophie, our AI parenting assistant! Sophie provides instant, reliable answers to all your queries, from tantrums to homework struggles. Embrace a stress-free parenting journey. Try Sophie now and experience the support you seek. 

References 

Asghari, M. S., & Besharat, M. A. (2010). The relation of perceived parenting with emotional intelligence. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 231-235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.046

Bhatia, G. (2012). Family relationship in relation to emotional intelligence of the students of secondary level. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 2(12), ttps://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-1212/ijsrp-p1210.pdf 

Chen, F.M., Lin, H.S. & Li, C.H. (2012). The Role of Emotion in Parent-Child Relationships: Children’s Emotionality, Maternal Meta-Emotion, and Children’s Attachment Security. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21, 403–410 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-011-9491-y

Harold, G.T. and Sellers, R. (2018), Annual Research Review: Interparental conflict and youth psychopathology: an evidence review and practice focused update. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59, 374-402. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12893  

Maccoby, E.E. (2000) Parenting and its Effects on Children: On Reading and Misreading Behavior Genetics. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 1-27. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.1 

Mackay, R. (2020). Family Resilience and good child outcomes – an overview of the research literature. Social Policy Journal, 20, 98-118. https://www.msd.govt.nz › 20-pages98-118

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