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The case of the broken record. Whenever Mr. or Mrs. Wagner told Andrew, ten, that he had earned a negative consequence, Andrew would launch into a routine of arguing and complaining that could have earned him an Emmy. Even though the Wagners would talk with Andrew and explain why he had earned the consequence, tempers eventually would rise, leading to a shouting match. Sometimes Andrew's mom and dad would forget what the original consequence was in the first place and be too worn out to enforce it anyway. Mrs. Wagner, especially, couldn't shake the feeling that Andrew was getting the best of her.
Why Does This Happen?
This is unfair! Sometimes a child will think that a consequence is unfair. Occasionally, he may be right. He may be getting into trouble for something his brother or sister did. Or an angry parent may give consequences that are overly punitive compared to the child's misbehavior.
While claiming that "This is unfair!" can also be used as a reaction against a justly deserved and reasonable negative consequence, older children tend to develop a pretty good barometer of what is fair and what is not. If your child honestly thinks that a consequence is unfair and does not know that he can talk to you about it at a later time, arguing may be the result.
Rewarding negative behavior may play a role in keeping your child from accepting his consequences. Remember that being given a negative consequence is an unpleasant experience for a child. If the inappropriate behaviors (for instance, whining, arguing, or shouting) are effective in delaying or (heaven help you) getting rid of the negative consequence, then those behaviors will be almost guaranteed to happen the next time you give a negative consequence.
Well-intentioned discussions can come at the wrong time. Many parents will talk with their children after the misbehavior in order to help them learn a lesson from the experience. It is a great idea to discuss the problem situation with your child in order to help him understand the relationship between his behavior and the negative consequences and to identify how he could have handled the situation differently. However, timing is everything. Having this type of discussion immediately after the negative behavior gives the child extra attention (which is a reward!) at exactly the wrong time and may inadvertently reward the negative behavior. On top of that, both you and your child are probably frustrated or angry immediately after his misbehavior, and your discussion will be more productive once everyone has had a chance to cool off.
What Can I Do?
Refuse to argue. If you don't want it to happen, don't do it. As long as you listen to your child's arguing, he will think that he still has a chance to make some headway and will argue even harder. When negative consequences are given, the only behavior that should be rewarded is appropriately accepting the consequence. Anything else, such as arguing, shouting, and so on, should never be rewarded. Once you have given the negative consequence, you should leave the area. It is harder to argue with you if you aren't there.
If you have given your child a consequence to be carried out at a later time, such as going to bed early, and he starts arguing, whining, or throwing a tantrum, just turn around and walk away. If your child becomes a "nomadic arguer," one that follows you from place to place, simply offer him a choice between stopping his arguing or going immediately to Time-Out.
Talk about it later. When you give a negative consequence, matter-of-factly tell your child why he is receiving the consequence and then administer it immediately. As a general rule, discuss your child's behavior and any lessons that can be learned from it after the negative consequence has been completed. This way, your child can experience a negative consequence immediately after his misbehavior, which will help him to learn that his misbehavior wasn't such a hot idea.
Talking about it later means that everyone will have had a chance to calm down and think about the situation, which will lead to a more positive discussion. If the negative consequence is one scheduled at a later time, you can discuss the situation with your child before the consequence is experienced, but only if he talks in an appropriate and respectful way. If he launches into argue mode, tell him that the discussion is over and you will talk later.
Depending on the situation, it may not be appropriate or possible to immediately discuss things, but your child needs to know that you will take the time to listen to his point of view. This does not mean that you are going to change the consequence or sit through an arguing match, but it does mean that you are committed to really listening to what he thinks and feels. Knowing that there will always be an open ear can go a long way toward building a strong relationship and reducing his need to argue when consequences are given.
Teach your child how to accept consequences. No two ways about it--accepting negative consequences is difficult. So, invest some time in teaching your child how to do it. During a positive time, tell your child that you want to help him get better at accepting consequences so that he can avoid getting into trouble. Let him know that you understand this can be difficult, but that you know he can learn how.
Using a child-friendly translation, read Proverbs 13: 18 together ("He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored"). Discuss why this is so. Think together about the following questions: What are the benefits of discipline and correction? What can discipline teach you? What kind of lessons does God want us to learn? How can discipline make a person wise?
Then, using the Detour Method, come up with a plan together for how he should respond when negative consequences are given. The plan can include things to think, say, or do. Make sure that the plan is specific and age-appropriate.