Ask the Experts

Q: “My Kid Argues About Absolutely Everything!”

Day in and day out, the exhausting dialogue of arguments, complaints, and negotiations wears down parents to the breaking point. Learning not to engage is awfully difficult — and awfully effective, too.

Q: “My daughter has very strong emotions and argues and complains about everything. She is quite the opposite of easygoing and has a hard time moving on and letting things go. It’s very tiring. She cannot just do what I ask but will argue first. She also has a very hard time accepting no for an answer but will keep trying to argue or negotiate.’ – MomNeedsHelp

Hi MomNeedsHelp:

Boy, did this question resonate with me. The hardest parenting lesson I had to learn when my children were younger was to stop engaging in the exhausting dialogue of arguments, complaints, and negotiations. This is not easy, especially with a child with ADHD who has a hard time letting go and moving on.

Since I don’t know the specifics of what your family “dialoguing” looks like or what causes it, I’d like to offer three general tips that often succeed – not only for my own children — but for my parent coaching clients as well.

Strategy #1: Use Pro-Con-Pro.

Let me explain. I’m all for allowing children to express their strong opinions — and giving them the space to do so. However, I also firmly believe that parents need to construct some parameters around this dialogue so it is constructive and contained. Years ago, I instituted a “pro-con-pro” rule in my home and in my coaching practice. Before you are allowed to argue or complain, you must begin and end with something positive.

Let’s say something upsetting happened to your daughter at school. You can ask her to FIRST tell you ONE thing that happened that was positive or happy. Then let her have all the space she needs to tell you everything that went wrong. End the conversation with one thing she might be looking forward to tomorrow.

[Click to Read: Time for Plan B? 10 Tips for Dealing with the Explosive Child]

Here’s another example: If your daughter is upset about having to stop watching television and start doing homework, she can start with “I really liked that I got to watch my favorite television show this afternoon. But I am really upset that I have to stop and do my homework. I’m looking forward to finishing my show later tonight.”

By sandwiching the “con,” you are placing some much-needed parameters and balance around the negative talk.

Which leads me to tip #2.

Strategy #2: Designate Times for the BMWs!

This is going to sound a bit unorthodox, but if it works, then I am all in! I have a lot of student coaching clients who like to, Moan, and Whine. All. The. Time. Again, I am all for giving students the space to voice their displeasure, but without any limits or parameters, these complaints would take over our sessions and make them very unproductive.

Therefore, instead of denying my students the space, I actually gave them specific time slots for the BMWs. They know where in the session this will fall and how long it will last, which limits any unnecessary anxiety. During our session, I set a timer for an allotted amount and give them the floor to say and “feel” what they need. Without any judgement or interruptions. Once the timer is done, we move on. I usually do this once more in the middle of the session with a gentle reminder that the time is theirs. You would be surprised how many of my students tell me, over time, that they don’t need it and we can move on.

[Get This Free Download: Your 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]

So instead of arguing with your daughter or denying her the space or time, honor it and give it to her! Set a time limit, be empathetic, and let her say what she needs to say without any interruptions or sidebar from you. I’d be curious to know if over time she lets that allotted time go.

Strategy #3: Set Clear Parameters.

I firmly believe it is a parent’s job to set the parameters and it’s the child’s job to negotiate them. But before any negotiations take place, your daughter needs to know what is negotiable and what is not. So make sure your parameters are clear and concise first. Review them often with your daughter so there is no ambiguity. And make them VISUAL!

Yes, visual. This is my favorite tip of all time. It takes that exhausting dialogue out of the equation. When she starts arguing with you on something that has already been decided on, point her to the calendar, checklist, contract, whatever you put in place and say very simply with no emotion – “Asked, and answered.”

Good Luck!

[Read This Next: 10 Ways to Raise a Confident, Happy Child]

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.