My husband and I were in the middle of a heated discussion when my peacemaker son piped up: “Stop fighting!” My husband and I looked at each other and laughed. “We’re not fighting,” I said. “We’re arguing.” I think it’s important for my kids to see my husband and me respectfully disagree. It’s a great way for them to learn how to argue.
Why would I want to teach them how to argue? They are already persuasive enough! Well, let me clarify—I don’t need them to learn how to argue to win. I want them to know how to argue to learn. They need to learn the right way because there are plenty of examples of the wrong way. And research shows that it’s good for them. They will avoid groupthink, stand up to peer pressure, and be more creative. Now that I’ve made my case, here are 5 ways to teach them how to argue.
You’ll see that these 5 lessons are not about engaging in the actual argument. “When he says ____, you say ____.” No, these are more like conditioning drills. My dad was a high school basketball coach and I heard him say over and over again that the conditioning drills he did with his players were more important than scrimmages during practice. It trained their muscles and their brains, kind of like Daniel and Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Daniel wanted to fight, but Mr. Miyagi knew Daniel had more wax-on, wax-off to do first!
1. Encourage unstructured playtime.
There’s nothing better than when your kids come in from playing outside, all sweaty, and they start shouting about the cool game they made up. It sounds like total nonsensical mayhem to you, but this hour of free play has taught them more about agreeing, disagreeing, cooperating, and understanding structure than any lesson in social studies could. Plus, free play is a great way for kids to learn morals and ethics naturally.
2. Talk about the future.
When we are disciplining our kids, focusing on the future will help them think about common goals, not blame. For example, if the milk got spilled, I could focus on the past, “Who spilled the milk?” Or the present, “The milk is all over the counter.” Or the future, “How can we keep the milk from spilling next time?” Yes, the first two statements are important, but considering the future will help them build problem-solving and critical thinking skills, both essential in a healthy argument.
3. Don’t shy away from, “Let’s find out that answer.”
When your child asks a question and you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know and then do some research. This shows an important part of any argument—humility. Then try researching at the library or in nature, but don’t be afraid to use the internet. Researching online with your child is a great way for them to learn that there might be conflicting answers. Then you can think critically together.
4. Squash interrupting.
Easier said than done, I know. But in any healthy argument, we have to listen more than we speak. Interrupting is disrespectful and says you’re only listening to speak, not to hear. If your child has a habit of interrupting, try this trick. When he wants to speak while you’re in a conversation, have him put his hand on your shoulder. You touch it back to let him know you recognize him. Then, when you are at a point when you can give him your attention, call him back over to talk.
5. Ask, “Is this the only possibility?”
We’re not teaching how to argue to win here, but I remember in debate class being taught that in order to win, you need to know the other team’s stance as well as you know your own. Considering others’ points of view is always wise. When one child cries, “He’s hoarding all the gray LEGOs so I can’t build my castle,” you can ask, “Is this the only possibility?” Then encourage him to explore the options of what else might be going on—maybe my brother is building an elephant! Or maybe he’s frustrated that he can’t come up with what he wants to build.
What do you do at home to encourage healthy disagreements?