27 May 2010 01:48 PM

Expressing Differences of Opinion

by Dr. Rick

Kids are really good at bickering.  Any parent or teacher can tell you that.  Kids argue with their brothers and sisters, with their friends at school, sometimes even – when they feel they can get away with it – with their parents or teachers.  Arguments happen from time to time.  They’re a fact of life.


Besides being annoying, patience-testing, and occasionally boisterous, arguments can also be teachable moments.  Knowing how to argue effectively is a valuable skill.  There are some things we can do at home and at school.  Here are some suggestions, for the early ages to the teen years and beyond.

  1. Know your values.  Know what values (Values Part 1) (Values Part 2) (Values Part 3)  you stress in your family: respect, responsibility, honesty, courtesy, learning, loyalty, self-respect, religion, and patriotism are some examples I’ve seen in students’ families over the years.  These form the heritage you give your children.  You probably learned them from your parents and other significant adults in your life.  They are fundamental.

  2. Start with the basics.  Show that you expect your children to take turns, to be nice to one another, to apologize when it’s their fault, to say please and thank you, to think before they speak when they’re upset, and to use the right words when they finally do speak.  (“I hear what you’re saying, but I have another point of view.”)  It’s good for kids to speak up for themselves, but they need to do it effectively.  Otherwise, what’s the point, except noise?  The world has enough of that!

  3. Be a role model.  Show how to share, how you behave in “touchy” situations, how you’re polite even to people with whom you disagree, how you express your opinions, how you give advice to people who may disagree with you.  Kids learn from us, they watch us, they want our guidance.  When you “catch” them sharing and being courteous, for example, praise them.

  4. Be a referee.  When it’s necessary, you’re going to have to be a referee once in a while.  It’s best when kids work out their own differences, but sometimes you’ll be dragged into an argument.  (“Mom!  Lindsay’s being unfair!”)  Show how fairness is important to you and that fairness is often in the eye of the beholder.

  5. Be consistent.  When you believe in your values, consistency is second-nature.  Kids will know quickly that you expect, say, honesty in their dealings with others.

  6. Walk away.  An important lesson for kids (and not a few adults, I must admit) is to know that it’s okay to remove themselves from a confrontation.  I’ve noticed that lots of arguing kids are actually relieved when the other walks away.  It’s not a sign of weakness but of level-headedness.  Someone has to be mature enough to do it, might as well be your kid.

  7. Teach how to listen.  Listening skills are important.  Show kids how actually to listen to the other side of a difference of opinion.  Listening with full attention, an open mind, and courtesy may not always change a person’s mind, but it will surely lessen the chances of ugly confrontation.  It’s good to have a reputation as someone who’s willing to hear another point of view.

  8. No one is right all the time.  It’s a sign of maturity to admit you’re wrong.  It takes strength and wisdom to admit you’ve been mistaken.  It also takes the wind out of the sails of your antagonist.  It makes you stronger when the next debate occurs.

  9. Don’t make it personal.  When arguments become personal, they can easily sink into long-lasting ugly confrontations that never accomplish anything and only waste everyone’s time and energies.  Why bother?

  10. Stay positive.  Kids need to see adults acting like, well, adults.  When they see us having polite, reasoned, if deeply felt differences of opinion, we show them how to keep these differences in their proper perspective.  They are merely that – differences of opinion – and not excuses for shouting, rudeness, or hostility.  Life’s too short, for goodness’ sake.




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