Behavior & Environment

Teaching Kids to Disagree Respectfully

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Although it’s hard to see in the moment, when a child disagrees with you, it’s actually a positive sign of their healthy development. For instance:

  • When kids question our logic or conclusions, it helps them develop critical thinking skills.
  • When they share their reactions to something we’ve said or done, they’re learning to express their thoughts and emotions even when it’s hard.
  • When they try to turn a no into a yes, they’re learning to define and advocate for what they want and need.
  • When they present an unyielding NO, they’re learning to set relationship boundaries.

The key is to teach kids to share their thoughts and feelings respectfully rather than scream, demand, insult, or shut down. Here are three things you can control in responding effectively:

1. Focus on the Issue, Not the Person

This is a hard one even for adults, but when kids learn to do this in their communication, it becomes a natural part of how they think. If they don’t like the short time they get for art in the afternoon, encourage and coach them to focus on their thoughts and feelings behind the time offered for art, not how you’re _____ (e.g. mean, too slow, ignoring something that’s important to them).

2. Invite Them to Problem Solve

When kids disagree, encourage them to problem-solve with you. Kids are super creative and often have workable win/win solutions. Genuinely ask them what are some other options besides the one being offered that could work. When problem-solving with kids, the solutions have to be practical, effective, and respectful to people and property.

3. Model a Respectful Tone

If we want kids to be respectful to us, we have to model what that looks like. When they take “the tone,” don’t ignore them hoping it will make them stop – that tends to frustrate them more. Instead, let them know you can’t focus on what they’re saying when they’re yelling, then model a respectful tone. It will take time and practice for them to get it. Keep modeling.

Teaching kids to communicate effectively, including disagreeing respectfully, is a long game. However, with consistency you’ll see regular progress and have a child who is invested in speaking to you in ways that work for both of you.