The desire of children to prove their parents wrong is a normal and healthy aspect of their development. It is a sign of their growing independence, self-discovery, and the pursuit of individual identity. While it may lead to occasional conflicts and disagreements, it is also an essential part of preparing children for adulthood. As parents, understanding this process and supporting their children in their journey towards independence and self-discovery is crucial for a harmonious parent-child relationship. It is through these challenges and growth opportunities that children mature into well-rounded individuals capable of making informed decisions and facing the world with confidence.
“I’m Right and You’re Wrong!” Is Your Child a Know-It-All?
Before I give you ideas for dealing with this behavior, I want to make one thing clear: as kids grow, they need to develop their interests and ideas, and they need to learn how to express them. They also have to learn where they end emotionally and where their parents begin—what we call emotional boundaries.
At different developmental periods, kids go through a process called separation and individuation. Sometimes this process is barely noticeable, and sometimes it’s intense. As a child or teen matures, they continue that process by learning how to form their own opinions. Thus, some of the behavior you’re experiencing with your child is completely normal.
I also can’t stress enough the importance of listening to your child initially. I know they can be irritating sometimes, but remember, they might be stating an opinion about something you need to know about. It might be something the teacher is doing that may be inappropriate, a dangerous thing the bus driver is doing, or a risky behavior on the part of your child’s friends. Listen to your kids with an open mind because when something important does come along, you want to make sure they feel free to bring it to you.
Nevertheless, suppose your child asserts their opinion, crosses the line, and becomes obnoxious. In that case, there are things you can do to help curtail that behavior and teach them socially appropriate ways of behaving, both inside and outside of the home.
Don’t Be Frightened by Your Child’s Opinions
Do not be frightened by kids’ opinions; just respond honestly. I think judging your child by their behavior is more effective than judging them by their opinions, thoughts, or ideas. Often their ideas come from peers at school, rumors, cultural events, or something they’ve seen or heard in the media.
When your child or teen is talking to you, they’re often trying to shape their own opinions. It’s better to hear your child out, state your opinion honestly, let them respond, and then respectfully disengage from the conversation. That way, nobody gets hurt, and you’ve avoided an argument.
So don’t be threatened by your child’s opinions and assertions, even if they’re wrong. The more you ignore these statements, the sooner they will go away. Indeed, if you want a child to be a real pain in the neck—if you want to strengthen some behavior or characteristic—then continue to argue with them because arguing makes your child feel more powerful.
Don’t Keep the Argument Going
If your child is trying to start an argument with you, don’t keep it going. Parents often feel like they have to get the last word in to be in control, which only furthers the child’s urge to argue with them.
If you disagree with your adolescent child, they often think it’s because you don’t understand what they’re saying, so they’ll keep trying to put it another way. They think that if they could explain it better, you’d understand and accept it, which is another reason why arguments with kids can keep going even after you’ve explained your point of view.
Arguing Gives Your Child a Feeling of Control
If your child tends to be argumentative and you stay in the argument with them, it makes them feel more powerful and in control. Don’t forget: kids only have the power you give them. Some of the power they need to have is important—it helps them develop their personal and social lives. In fact, it’s important that they gain increasing access to power as they grow older and individuate more.
But, when it comes to discussing house rules or consequences or privileges, I think that after they state their opinion, you say:
“I understand your opinion, but the rule is not changing. This is the way it is.”
And then leave. If you stand there, they think it’s OK to keep talking. When you get out of the situation, it takes the power out of the room.
Disengage When Your Child Continues to Argue
One of the most powerful things you can do with kids who are know-it-alls is to not respond to them when they try to drag you into an argument. Be respectful, but disengage. And know that each time you respond, they feel compelled to answer back, and the discussion will just keep going.
When your child has come up with some erroneous statement in an attempt to prove their point, the best thing you can do is state your opinion honestly. When they state their counter-opinion, you can say:
“That’s interesting. I have to go downstairs now.”
Of course, you can change a household rule, but don’t make the change just because your child doesn’t like the rule. As the parent in the household, it’s up to you to set the rules, and your child doesn’t have to like them. Setting limits is your job, and testing limits is what kids naturally do.
Don’t Let One Child Ruin It for Everybody
If family members are having dinner or watching a movie together at home, don’t let one child dominate the conversation so that it blocks everyone else from expressing their opinions. It’s important to understand that while everyone’s opinion is valued, it’s usually valued once. After that, it becomes obnoxious.
If one of your children doesn’t like what you’re having for dinner or doesn’t care for the movie choice, give them their options and don’t let them sit there and continue to annoy everyone with their negativity. Always have a backup plan. This usually includes having them go to their room until they can let go of the topic or complaint they’re stuck on.
Your backup plan doesn’t have to be a punishment or consequence. It’s just a time out for your child in their room until they can get off the subject. Often, when kids are over-stimulated, anxious, or frustrated, it’s hard for them to switch thoughts on their own. A change of scenery and a few minutes away from the stimulation can be helpful.
Many parents of children who act in an overbearing way find it effective to devise a cuing system with their child to signal that they’re “doing it again.” You and your child should agree on a signal, like a cue in a movie or play. The gesture means:
“You need to stop it now. You’ve stated your opinion, and you need to let it go. If you go further, there are going to be consequences.”
Many parents find this an effective non-verbal tool for helping their children curtail inappropriate behavior without embarrassing them in front of others.
When Your Child Won’t Let Their Siblings Express Themselves
If your child won’t let his siblings express themselves, or will not listen to their opinions, what I would recommend is that you say the following:
“Jack, you aren’t listening to others. How can you keep arguing your position when you won’t even listen to your sister’s answer? Why don’t you give her a second and hear what she’s saying?”
That way, you provide an example to your other kids so they can learn to say, “You’re not listening.”
If your kids don’t stop arguing, you can also say:
“I’m tired of this bickering. This conversation will end in sixty seconds, and if you continue, you’re going to your rooms.”
At first, the child who’s the know-it-all might get more obnoxious, but follow through with the consequences, and he will learn how to stop. Give them the responsibility to stop the argument in sixty seconds; if they don’t, hold them accountable. In this way, they learn to meet the responsibility of stopping the argument. In short, they learn to behave in a socially appropriate manner.
Remember, you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. And although it’s important that kids feel they’re being heard and responded to, that doesn’t give them the right to be obnoxious and argue a point forever.
We can debate about many things, but as parents, it’s our responsibility to make the rules and determine what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. The truth is we all have opinions about our teachers, our bosses, and our leaders. Nevertheless, as we mature, we learn to separate our opinions from our ability to function in a society with rules. And this is an essential lesson for kids to learn.
About James Lehman, MSW
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.