"There are no argumentative children; only adults who argue with children."

Hop off the Argument Merry Go Round


Hi there,

My almost 5-year-old has come a long way from his 3-year-old self. I suppose maturity helps. He's no longer throwing tantrums (a.k.a crying loudly) or hitting when he doesn't get his way but he's still trying his darndest to be in charge.

When given an instruction, his first reaction is arguing and giving excuses or making all sorts of requests "But I have to do this first," "But I have to use the toilet," "Can you set my clock?" "I'm thirsty, I'll drink water first." We let it go at first, requiring that as long as that instruction gets done, we're fine with drinking water first or whatever. Now he's pulling free on the carpark, darting out to hold daddy's hand instead. He argues with me about that. He pretends not to understand or hear instructions when we're outside. I'm ashamed to say, sometimes I have yelled out of no choice.

At home, we usually state the instruction and walk away. But!! He'll either dawdle and not do it, or he'll follow me around most persistently, pestering me about "but this, but that", whatever the "but" is, there will be at least one excuse it can't get done immediately. He's a real pro in getting a parent into the boxing ring of to-and-fro arguments. We don't engage but this is very, very unpleasant as its happening all the time.

Three daily strikes for not listening immediately or room and early bedtime isn't persuading him to stop this bad habit. By the way, he's very accustomed to being sent into his room for the day. He'll even argue with me incessantly about consequences - no TV or whatever! Oh, and when in his room, he'll keep coming out to make various requests. I'll sternly tell him to go back in only for him to pop out again and call loudly for me. Same thing if I lock the door. I can't really ignore the noise as it's a small house and his sister is doing homework in the next room. If I become stern, he's got a reaction out of me. If I Ignore it, he amps up the noise. What do I do? He's not listening to his teachers at kinder or violin lesson either. He doesn't defy outrightly but just ignores instructions and does something else instead or dawdles, just like at home. Having him behave at home also doesn't guarantee he'll behave outside - it's like having a loose cannon! What do we do?

How do we put a stop to this once and for all? I thought we'd sorted this out - but it's just morphed into something else from the Same root.


Hello and thank you for your question. Congratulations on saying good bye to tantrums and being able to celebrate the maturity that comes as we watch our children grow. No doubt however that each phase of parenting presents with its own set of blessing and burdens.

It appears to me you are stuck on the argument merry go round. In fact, I would say that you and your husband are the ones riding it and your son is the one pushing it around. It’s time to hop off this ride for good! Stopping the arguing is 100% in your control. It takes two to argue so changing your response, not your son's, is the only way to stop it for good. I suggest that you whatever you have been doing you completely stop and let your son know there is a new sheriff in town.

Tell your son and any other kids in the home that going forward when they are given instructions that you and your husband expect them to listen the first time. That’s it. Keep it short and sweet and if you get any questions, the only answer you should give them is “because we said so”. Additionally, you and your husband must be on the same page here and form a united front. No more sips of water, trips to the bathroom, dawdling or excuses when given instructions. It’s time for your son to fully learn that you mean what you say and say what you mean. Give instructions (without explanation) clearly one time, set a timer for however long you would like to give him to complete the task and walk away. If when you come back it’s not completed, that is OK. Without getting upset or yelling, send your son to his room and then complete the task for him. Ignoring anything he does or says after being sent to his room will be challenging for you but is 100% necessary if he is to learn from this. As long as he is safe in his room, do whatever it takes to ignore his efforts to engage you. If he comes out, quietly and gently walk him back to his room and shut the door. No talking, explaining or yelling = no reacting. Ear plugs might be needed, especially for your daughter so she won’t be distracted during homework, but you MUST ignore him.

Additionally, since you said he is struggling with listening at school and violin lessons, I recommend halting his violin lessons until this behavior is under control. He needs to learn that if he can't behave at home then he does not get to do the fun "extra" things. You can continue with an early bedtime or withholding a favorite toy, too, however, don’t be too quick to give any of these things back until he has been successful for a least a month if not longer with listening.

As your son learns to respect your parenting authority it will increase the likelihood that he will transfer this respect to his teachers. I highly recommend you read Dr. Rosemond’s book The Well Behaved Child if you have not already done so and if you continue to have problems you may want to consider a phone consult with Dr. Rosemond or even hiring a parent coach.

Lisa Woodman
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

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