Here’s the short list of things I’ve argued with my 4-year-old daughter about in the last 48 hours:
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- An appropriate wake-up time (she strongly believes it’s in the 5 a.m. hour; I don’t want to see a living person until 7 a.m. at the earliest)
- Whether a sleeveless sundress is suitable for January-in-Ohio wear
- Why she can’t meet Martin Luther King Jr.
- Why she can’t make cameos on my Zoom meetings
- How often one should be expected to bathe
Perhaps you’ve been there yourself, in that never-ending loop of back-and-forth. If you have, you know there’s no winning for anyone. I have spent many moments with my head in my hands, wondering why I bother to engage, knowing that it’s impossible to provide a convincing argument to my determined young debater.
And 4 is some kind of age. My daughter is at that precipice of awareness, where she understands so much, but still needs guidance and exposure to real life situations. She’s grappling with the bigness of her imagination and the limitations of her personal experience. In short, she’s still growing.
The moment I truly understood that, I learned to feel more empathy in these ceaseless arguments. I stopped seeing them as arguments, and more as opportunities to encourage her critical thinking and guide her communication skills.
I stopped seeing them as arguments, and more as opportunities to encourage her critical thinking and guide her communication skills.
Here’s how I turned our inevitable arguments from frustrating to productive:
- Be patient. It’s hard to see an argument as a conversation, especially if the premise feels truly ridiculous, but know that in their own way, your little one just wants to be heard.
- Listen, truly listen. Even if their argument isn’t based in logic, they are trying to communicate something to you about how they see the world.
- Communicate that you understand their point of view. You may not agree that they should have donuts over yogurt for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t understand the impulse. A simple acknowledgment does wonders in diffusing the situation.
- Move on. Not every battle is going to be won or even resolved, but know when to pivot and shelve the conversation for later. A simple, “Hmm, OK. I’ll think about it for next time” often does the trick.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it; sometimes the days of arguing are still hard. But they have also improved immensely once I decided I would be less reactionary and more reassuring. We still disagree, but at least now, we’re both trying to approach it with more calm and empathy. I’ve learned to really admire my daughter’s impulse to speak her mind and challenge things she perceives as injustices. I know those skills will serve her well as a young woman down the line.
And keep in mind, it’s not really about winning, at least not in a traditional sense.
And keep in mind, it’s not really about winning, at least not in a traditional sense. These arguments are a way for young children to explore opposing concepts and to voice their own desire for control in a world that often feels very baffling to them. No matter how frustrating, that’s a real win for children and parents alike.
Read More: 5 Reasons I Want to Be More Like My Toddler