Conflict, conversation and tips on positive communication

I have often remarked that my child would make a great politician, lawyer or lobbyist, because he never gives up on a fight.  But with school holidays increasing tensions, it seemed likely that we were not the only family experiencing some difficulty communicating.


Coping with a child who argues at the drop of a hat can test your patience, even when you are secretly in awe of the voracity of their tenacity - it can be exhausting.   

The word ‘no’ or a statement like “this is not negotiable” can be akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull –  so, get ready for them to charge.  Because those living with ADHD have a tendency towards a lower-than-average tolerance for any departure from what they consider to be fair, whether it’s rules for a game or requests for doing something around the house.

You can help your child learn better coping and communication skills, the first step is to have a discussion about the level of arguing in your home. However, do not initiate this discussion in the middle of an argument—or even right afterward.  Pick a moment when things are peaceful. Be sure to include all involved parties: the child with ADHD, any siblings and your spouse.  Start the conversation by discussing how each person feels about the constant arguing. 

Your goal is to get everyone to agree on...

Importance of Good Listening

Discuss what you’ll do together when your child interrupts you to argue, or vice versa. You could use a phrase such as, “Please let me finish my thought, and then it will be your turn to talk.” If you tell an ADHD child to stop arguing, many will come back with, “I’m not arguing, I’m just disagreeing with you.” This just prolongs the argument—or starts a new one! A good solution for this problem is to agree ahead of time on a nonverbal prompt to remind your child to listen and not interrupt. Because your ADHD child is already in the arguing mode and starting to escalate emotionally, nonverbal gestures often work better than words. A neutral sign you’ve agreed upon ahead of time is perfect because it won’t get them more upset. An example of a nonverbal prompt you could use would be to hold up three fingers or to make the peace sign. Make coming up with the prompt into a fun exercise you and your child do together.

Additional communication strategies

  • Talk with them about the consequences of leaving a problem unresolved.
  • Use humor to put them at ease.
  • Ask the same question in different ways to get a response.
  • Make it safe ensure them you will be positive "What's the worst thing that could happen if you told me what you think?"
  • Let them know their ideas are important. Be open to trying to understand their point of view, let your child know you have heard them by repeating back what you think they said.
  • Allow your child time to speak and complete ideas before interrupting or finishing sentences.
  • Encourage them to clarify, if you are unsure of what is being said.
  • Recognise when they are disengaging and address the problem.  Ask “What are you feeling? What can I do to make it easier for you to talk with me?"

It’s OK to Disagree

You can “agree to disagree” on various topics with your child. You might even discuss what examples of these might be. With teens, this could include not supporting the same political party. For younger kids, you can explain how it’s OK for two people to disagree on their favourite colour, or flavour of ice cream, for example, to get the point across. It’s healthy to allow these kinds of disagreements in your home because it teaches your child that his or her opinions matter, and that people can love each other even if they don’t see everything the same way. Practicing healthy disagreements at home also helps our children to learn how to master this skill in the outside world.

Parents are in charge

It’s essential for kids to realize who’s in charge.  When I was teaching in high schools I would often tell the students with whom I worked, “When you get a job, what’s going to happen when you argue with your boss? They’ll just fire you.”  Explain to your child that you’re responsible for their health and well-being. You can say, “You don’t have to like it, but that’s the way it is. It’s the same way at work when you have a supervisor you don’t like. You still have to do what they say because they’re the one in charge.” 

The next step is to define the problem that prompted your discussion about arguing in the first place.  Is it not taking “no” for an answer, not wanting to comply with reasonable requests, or always having to be right? Once you have agreed on what the problem is, you can move on to the solution phase.  Here are some basic suggestions on how to handle these three types of arguing.

If the problem is not taking "no" for an answer, you can;

  1. start with a system to reward the child for improving their ability to accept the answers they do not want to hear.  You need to stand your ground and say something like, “I know you don’t like my answer, but you need to take a deep breath and accept it because I believe this is the best decision.” 
  2. If the child accepts this without the prompt, they should be given praise such as, “Thanks for accepting my answer without arguing. It helps us to get along and makes it easier for me to say ‘yes’ sometimes.”  If this simple approach works, great! 
  3. If not, move on to saying that for every day that goes by without an argument, your child will get a star on their chart.  When all 30 squares are filled, they will receive an agreed upon reward. 
  4. If this does not resolve the problem you may have to “kick it up a notch” and add a time-out for arguing or have him write, “ I will calmly take no for an answer even though I don’t like the answer” five times. This works well for ADHD kids because it’s shorter and takes less time than writing out a few paragraphs on what they did wrong, With a child who has ADHD, they’re apt to write a paragraph explaining why you’re wrong! All in all, having them write sentences helps you avoid a power struggle.

For children who always have to be right and feel the need to have everyone agree with them on every issue, you can; 

  1. Practice discussing issues with your child, teaching them how to be a good listener, and showing them how to understand others points of view by asking questions such as, “That’s interesting, what made you think of that?” 
  2. Practice phrases that show respect for others even when you have a different point of view.  For example, “That’s an interesting point of view and I can tell you feel strongly about it. I think I understand what you’re saying, but I have a different take on it.” 
  3. Coach your child by saying that if the other person asks for his or her “take” they can briefly share it.  If they don’t ask for it, tell your child that they need to let the subject drop.

Your child may like to argue, but it doesn’t have to become the main method of communication between the two of you.

Remember that the point is not to stifle individuality or assertiveness, but to teach our children how and when to exercise these qualities in a positive and appropriate way.

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