Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard [NOOK Book]


For parents fed up with constant challenges to their authority-but who dread becoming tyrants in their own homes-this book provides a powerful new alternative to "because I said so." Trusted family therapist and author Michael P. Nichols takes on the number-one problem of parents today with the insight and humor that has made his earlier The Lost Art of Listening an enduring bestseller. Presented is a simple, easy-to-follow, yet remarkably effective way to put an end to arguments by refusing to argue back. ...
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Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard

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For parents fed up with constant challenges to their authority-but who dread becoming tyrants in their own homes-this book provides a powerful new alternative to "because I said so." Trusted family therapist and author Michael P. Nichols takes on the number-one problem of parents today with the insight and humor that has made his earlier The Lost Art of Listening an enduring bestseller. Presented is a simple, easy-to-follow, yet remarkably effective way to put an end to arguments by refusing to argue back. Instead, the techniques of responsive listening help parents open up better communication in the family; create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation; and take children's feelings into account-without giving in to their demands. Loads of realistic examples help parents defuse whining and defiance and manage common conflicts with preschoolers to teens.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This excellent book is one that parents will dog-ear and keep handy. Like a wise grandparent, it helps today's stressed and beleaguered parents calm down and do a better job of parenting. Nichols' responsive listening approach is smart and sound, and it is presented clearly and confidently. I wish I had read Stop Arguing with Your Kids when I was a parent; I'll make sure my adult kids get copies."--Augustus Y. Napier, PhD, author of The Family Crucible and The Fragile Bond

"Whether dealing with my own four-year-old or my sister's feisty preteen, this book has helped me fashion responses that work."--Mary Comerford, mother of three, Westchester, New York

"A widely respected academic authority and clinician, Dr. Nichols understands how families work, and in this book he offers parents a tool to navigate the difficult spots in their developing relationship with their children."--Philip J. Guerin, MD, family psychiatrist, Rye Brook, New York

"A gem of a parenting book, with an abundance of empathy and expertise for parent and child. Just wait until you see the experience of being understood in your child’s eyes--the battle will become irrelevant."--Marisa Leto, mother of a five-year-old, Greenbrae, California

"If you're tired of all those arguments with your kids that leave you feeling frustrated, angry, or guilty, you're in for a real treat. Finally, some down-to-earth, easy-to-understand advice for turning battles into loving interactions. Read it--your kids will thank you!"--Michele Weiner-Davis, author of Change Your Life and Everyone In It

Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"Is a well written, entertaining, and thoughtful parenting book that provides a nice intermix of case vignettes, behavior management techniques, and information about child development and family dynamics."--Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic
Attention Magazine

"The material in this book will be helpful to parents who really want to transform their arguments into productive conversations and especially valuable to those parents who want to break the cycle of chronic arguing and regain their parental authority. These strategies work for toddlers and teenagers. I wish this book had been around when my oldest child was a baby, but it is never to late to start."--Attention Magazine
The Family Journal

"Presents an abundance of information that is practical and powerful. This straightforward, self-help book is especially interesting and helpful for parents and for educators."--The Family Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609189402
  • Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/18/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 229
  • Sales rank: 886,447
  • File size: 992 KB

Meet the Author

Michael P. Nichols, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at the College of William and Mary. He is a well-known family therapist and popular speaker who has been a guest on national television programs. Dr. Nichols is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including The Lost Art of Listening and Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods, the most widely used textbook in the field. In addition to teaching and practicing family therapy, Dr. Nichols is a national masters powerlifting champion.
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Read an Excerpt

Stop Arguing with Your Kids

How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard

By Michael P. Nichols

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2004 Michael P. Nichols
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60918-940-2


Taking Charge of Your Children Without a Battle

Katie was an adorable seven-year-old with curly red hair. She and her mother had just returned from spending Sunday at the zoo and then going out to supper at Katie's favorite restaurant. Even though it was late when they got home, Glenda agreed to let Katie play one of her computer games for half an hour before going to bed. It had been an exciting day, and Glenda thought Katie might need time to unwind before falling asleep.

Half an hour later, Glenda bent over to give Katie a kiss and said, "Okay, sweetheart, it's bedtime."

"Mom, please! Can't I play Pokemon just a little longer? I'm not tired, and I don't want to go to bed."

"Honey, I'm sorry, but it's past your bedtime. We've had a long day and tomorrow is a school day," Glenda said patiently. "You know how tired you are in the morning, honey, and if I let you stay up past your bedtime you won't be able to get up and get ready for school." Glenda wasn't one of those parents who told their children to do things "because I said so." She wanted Katie to understand the reasons why things had to be done a certain way.

"I'll get up, I promise!" Katie pleaded.

"Now, Katie, didn't we have a nice time at the zoo today? And didn't you get to have a special Pu Pu Platter at the Chinese restaurant? Now I want you to be a good girl and get ready for bed."

"Oh, please, just a few more minutes. I'm almost done," Katie whined.

"Turn off that computer and get ready for bed!" Glenda snapped. Enough was enough.

"You never let me do anything!" Katie wailed. "It's not fair!"

Now Glenda was mad. "If you're not in bed in five minutes, young lady, you're going to be mighty sorry!"

At this unaccustomed harshness from her mother, Katie burst into tears and ran upstairs to her room.

Glenda resisted the urge to go up after her daughter. She was in no mood to try to smooth things over. Why, after all that she did for her, did Katie have to be so uncooperative? Why did she have to ruin what had been such a nice day?

As she sat there thinking, or rather brooding, Glenda was distracted by the faint sound of sobbing from Katie's bedroom. Guilt stabbed her. Maybe she could have found a better way to handle this. Wasn't there some way for a mother who loved her child as much as she loved Katie to avoid sending a seven-year-old to bed in tears?

Fifteen minutes later when Glenda went in to check on her, Katie lay still, pretending to be asleep. "Goodnight," whispered Glenda. No response. She bent down to give Katie a kiss on the forehead and felt her stiffen.

When she heard her mother's footsteps going back down the stairs, Katie fought the urge to call out "Mommy, come back." Her feelings were a jumble of anger and grief. Why couldn't her mother have let her have just five more minutes to finish playing Pokemon? On the other hand, she hated it when she did something that made her mother mad. Would your mother stop loving you if you were bad enough?

* * *

Martin, who was fifteen, had always been a responsible child, and so his parents had given him a great deal of freedom. He'd been allowed to take the bus downtown by himself from the time he was ten, and by thirteen he was earning money after school by baby-sitting and mowing lawns. So it came as a shock when he told his father that he and his friends were off to see a Pamela Anderson movie and his father said, "Isn't that an R-rated movie? I'm sorry, but you're going to have to find some other movie to go to."

Martin couldn't believe what he was hearing. It seemed absurd for his father to forbid him to see such a perfectly harmless movie. It wasn't as if he was planning to see a porno film.

"Oh, come on, Dad, all my friends are going."

"I don't care what your friends do," Martin's father said. "If their parents allow them to see R-rated movies without supervision, that's their business."

Martin doubted that his friends ever told their parents what movies they were actually going to see. But he didn't say that. Instead, he tried to convince his father. "What's the difference between seeing a movie with you and seeing it with my friends? It's still the same movie, isn't it?"

"That's not the point. I don't want you sneaking into movies and lying about your age."

"Who makes up those stupid ratings, anyway? Why should I be able to see movies full of violence but not ones with a little sex? There's worse stuff than that on TV all the time."

"I don't know, and I don't care." Martin's father was tired of his son's tendency to argue about everything. "You're not going, and that's final!"

"Oh, all right," Martin grumbled and went upstairs to his room.

As far as Martin's father was concerned that was the end of it. He never doubted that his son, who'd never given him any cause to worry, would respect his decision on this matter.

Up in his room, Martin couldn't believe that his father could be so unreasonable. Having been allowed so much latitude when he was younger, he wasn't about to let his father now, at his age, dictate how he spent his time with his friends.

* * *

What Katie and Martin demonstrate, each in their own way, is what happens when children argue with their parents. Sooner or later most parents are going to end up having the last word. But that doesn't mean that anybody ends up feeling very good about it afterwards.

According to her mother, Katie was "very strong-willed." That's one of the things parents say about argumentative children. Or at least that's what they say when they're in a good mood. When they're a little less guarded, parents say things like:

"She always wants everything her own way."

"He always thinks he's right."

"She knows everything!"

In fact, complaints about children's arguing rank right up there as one of the chief aggravations of parenthood. If only they'd do what we ask, at least once in a while, life would be a lot easier.

"Why do I always have to ...?"

"You never let me do anything!"

"Please, please, please!"

"It's not my turn!"

Do these protests sound familiar? If so, then you know how frustrating it can be to have to deal with a child's arguing.

How Bad Is Bad?

Do you ever wonder if your child is more argumentative than most? Maybe all children are argumentative. Maybe your child is more reasonable than most. Maybe not.

When I was doing research for this book, I advertised in the local newspaper for parents who were willing to be interviewed about problems with "highly argumentative children." You'd be surprised who showed up.

One father I spoke to considered his teenage son argumentative because the boy sometimes wanted to know why he wasn't allowed to do certain things. Several parents thought of their children as argumentative, not because the children argued with them, but because they didn't always do what they were told. On the other hand, I've spoken to several nice parents in my office over the years who seemed to take their children's lack of respect for granted, even though their children were outrageously rude and disrespectful.

To get some idea of how argumentative your child is, take the following highly unscientific quiz.

As I said, this quiz is not very scientific. It's really just a device to get you thinking about your child and your relationship. If your child scored low on this quiz, congratulations; it should be relatively easy to apply the suggestions I'll be making in the following pages. If your child scored higher in the argumentative range, you may have your work cut out for you. On the other hand, you may benefit all the more from the suggestions you'll read in the next two chapters.

"Do I Have To?"

Like a lot of familiar experiences, "arguing" turns out to be not so easy to define. Perhaps that's because the verb "to argue" has two very different connotations. There is one sense in which arguing isn't such a bad thing. "To present reasons for a point of view" and "to persuade by reason" are examples of the kind of exercise in logic that most parents would like to encourage in their children. There's nothing wrong with a six-year-old who presents reasons for wanting to do one thing as opposed to another or with a fourteen-year-old who tries to persuade her parents to allow her to do something with her friends. Such "arguing" can be part of a reasonable discussion in which parent and child learn to negotiate the gap between their two different perspectives.

But you didn't pick up this book to learn how to cut down on the number of reasonable discussions in your family. The second and more familiar sense of "arguing" refers to those annoying examples of children insisting on having things their way without respect for their parents' point of view. When children argue in this second way, it doesn't feel like a discussion. It feels like being attacked. It's unpleasant; it's frustrating. Arguing in this sense isn't an exercise in reasoning; it's emotional bullying.

The "Do I have to?"s and "I don't wanna!"s that turn everyday routines into a battleground are familiar to every parent. Sometimes it seems that children are happy only when they get their own way. When they don't, their protests trigger a barrage of arguments that never seem to get settled, just broken off to be resumed later.

The essential difference between arguing as part of a reasonable discussion and arguing as a child's insisting on getting his or her own way is that argument-as-discussion doesn't challenge the parent's decision-making authority, whereas argument-as-resistance does. Maybe we should call the reasoned give-and-take in which children express their opinions but don't challenge their parents' authority a "discussion" and reserve the term "argument" for children trying to get their own way without regard for their parents' point of view or for their right to have the final say. It's this second sense of arguing, when children defy their parents and insist on getting their own way, that creates so much friction in families.

Arguments, like the one Glenda had with Katie over bedtime, are upsetting to parents and children alike. By their very nature, arguments upset the bond of mutuality between parent and child, leaving them feeling like adversaries. Suddenly Us becomes You-against-me. Why, Glenda wondered, couldn't Katie be a little more cooperative? Why, Katie wondered, did her mother have to be so mean?

Although a certain amount of arguing between parents and children is inevitable, when arguing becomes a regular feature of parent–child interactions, animosity displaces harmony in the household. Recurrent arguments undermine a parent's appreciation of her child as well as the child's feeling of being taken seriously and respected by the parent. If seven-year-old Katie starts arguing whenever her mother tells her to do something, Glenda may find herself longing for the time when her daughter was little, when she looked up at her mother's face with wide eyes and nodded agreement with everything she said. It's a sad thing when parents start missing the children that were, instead of enjoying the children who are.

Fifteen-year-old Martin's argument with his father wasn't just about going to an R-rated movie. That was part of it, of course, but like all arguments with real feeling behind them there was more at stake than the subject at hand. Martin had a point about how the ratings system censors sex more than violence. But his father, not wanting to give in, refused to acknowledge this point—or the child making it. What also didn't get acknowledged, because it didn't get discussed, was the boy's feelings about being too old to be told what movies he could or couldn't see.

At what point does a fifteen-year-old decide that if he can't ever win an argument with his father, can't even get a fair hearing, he might as well start disobeying him on the sly?

* * *

No one needs to tell parents how frustrating arguing with their children can be. Nothing gets done without a battle. From getting up in the morning to getting ready for bed at night, everything gets bogged down in a litany of "Please, just a little bit longer"s, "Why can't I?"s, and "It's not fair!"s. Everything is subject to debate. Everything is a struggle. Some children, it seems, are never without an argument, even if rarely a good one. They resist and complain, they demand and protest—anything to get their own way—leaving their parents feeling alternately helpless and furious.

By being forced into arguments with their children, parents are brought down to the child's level. People in charge don't have to argue. They're the boss. Bosses don't argue; they command. If the arguing is chronic, the whole balance of parental authority is eroded. Parent and child become adversaries. It's not the way things are supposed to be.

The emotionality of arguments escalates through a series of actions and reactions. Here's eleven-year-old Lorelei's mother:

"I try to be flexible, but if I remind her to do one of her chores, she'll say, 'But I'm doing this now. I don't want to do that.' So I give her time, but when I remind her later, she'll still not want to do what I ask. She objects to everything I tell her to do."

When her mother gives her choices—"You can work on your homework at the table or in your room"—Lorelei wants to do it some entirely different way. "But I want to do it on the couch!" Round and round they go. Lorelei's mother says, "I get sucked in. She gets very irritable, and I get caught up in that emotionality. Sometimes it turns into a shouting match. I lose control because she loses control." Sound familiar?

That's where arguments lead—emotionality, loss of control, shouting matches. By arguing, often at the most inconvenient times, children turn what otherwise should be good times into anything but. The whining, the protests, the complaining—from the very children you spend half your life doing things for—are as much fun to listen to as the blare of raucous music when you have a headache. But it isn't just the noise. It's the wheedling, the demandingness, the me, me, me mentality that triggers resentment in parents. Everything becomes a battle of wills. It's exhausting.

It can start with a simple request.

"Please turn off the TV."

"Time to get ready for bed."

"It's time to get dressed."

The child resists.

"Oh, please, can't I just finish this show?"

"I don't wanna go to bed. I'm not tired."

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing!"

It's this resistance that pits parent and child in opposition to each other. The child's persistence provokes a corresponding insistence on the part of the parent. The more recalcitrant the child, the more frustrated the parent. In the grip of escalating emotion, something unfortunate happens. Parents lose their cool.

Even the calmest parents become reactive in the face of too many arguments. Unfortunately, emotional reactivity leads to a battle of wills in which the only way for the parent to win is for the child to lose. There is another way, a way that allows both parents and children to emerge as winners—responsive listening.

Responsive Listening Lets the Air Out of Arguments

Responsive listening is a proactive technique that enables parents to respond to their children's arguments without getting caught up in a struggle. By listening, instead of reacting to their children's feelings, parents are able to remain in control of their own emotions—and of their interactions with argumentative children. Responsive listening isn't magic and, as we'll see, applying it sometimes takes patience and imagination, but it goes a long way toward putting parents in charge of arguments they once felt exasperated with.

* * *

It takes two to argue. The child's contribution is insisting on having things his way. The parent's contribution is countering this insistence. If one person insists and the other counters, the argument will continue until someone is willing to let go of trying to have the last word. During the time that a parent chooses to listen to what a pleading child has to say, there is no argument. Eventually the parent may have to respond to the child's plea with a yes, no, or maybe. But as long as that parental ruling can be deferred, there is no need for argument.


Excerpted from Stop Arguing with Your Kids by Michael P. Nichols. Copyright © 2004 Michael P. Nichols. Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I. How Responsive Listening Works to Eliminate Arguments
1. Taking Charge of Your Children without a Battle
2. The Five Steps of Responsive Listening
3. How to Head Off Arguments before They Start
4. How to Inspire Cooperation in Your Children
5. Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Arguing
II. How to Apply Responsive Listening to Different Age Groups
6. Young Children: Tears and Tantrums
7. School-Age Children: "Do I Have To?"
8. Teenagers: "You Can't Tell Me What to Do!"
III. Complications
9. The Changing Dynamics of the Adolescent Family
10. When Arguing Seems Unavoidable: How to Use Responsive Listening in the Toughest Situations
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  • Posted April 27, 2009

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    Dr. Nichols has put together a wonderful book that will help, not only parents to better understand and listen to thier children, but for children to better understand and listen to thier parents. The information is presented in a very clear and easily adaptive way. The book should be a pre-requistit to anybody that wants to have or already has children.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

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