He Will Make a Great Lawyer One Day, but What Do I Do in the Meantime?

He Will Make a Great Lawyer One Day, but What Do I Do in the Meantime?

For some parents it can feel like they can’t make a simple request of their young child without getting, “Why?” “But I didn’t make that mess.” “I don’t want to clean up right now.” “Just two more minutes.” “I’m almost done.” These things may all seem well meaning in the moment and maybe the first few times we concede, because after all what is two more minutes? But for some kids two minutes at every turn adds up to a whole lot throughout the day and parents find themselves asking:

Why can’t he just listen when I ask him to do something?

I have come to think of these kids as little lawyers, they have a response to everything and are always trying to argue their way out of things. Now keep in mind that having a little lawyer is not a bad thing, just think of how many debate tournaments he is going to win when he gets older. In the mean time it is important to help your little lawyer learn when it is ok to negotiate, and when it’s just time to listen. Here are three tips for helping your little lawyer learn just that.

Be Direct

When we ask a child to do something it implies that they have a choice. Whenever a little lawyer hears “can you bring your plate to the sink?” “Would you pick up your shoes please?” “Will you please come here?” His first reaction is often “No” or “Why,” and in all fairness we set him up for this by implying that he had a choice to listen or not. To avoid this dilemma, if you want your child to do something, don’t ask him, instead clearly state what he needs to do. As adults we are used to asking rather than telling other adults to do things because it is more polite. However, you can still model polite and respectful behavior to your child while at the same time letting him know this is something that is not up for negotiation.  “Please bring your plate to the sink.” “Please pick up your shoes.” “Come here please.”

Know When to Negotiate and When Not to

Encouraging your child to think for themselves and ask questions can be a good thing. However, when your little lawyer is trying to negotiate his way out of brushing his teeth or picking up his toys it is generally not the best time to try and reason with him. This is because in that moment he is not trying to understand why he has to brush his teeth or pick up his toys, he is just trying to get out of doing it. A simple rule to keep in mind is that once you have told your child what you want him to do, there is no more negotiating. Imagine that after you clearly state what you want your child to do (“Please put your blocks in the toy box”) you cannot hear or see anything your child does until he complies with what you told him to do. At first you will need to be prepared for a lot of effort from your little lawyer to get you to engage in the negotiation. This is because he is used to you responding to his arguments. Don’t worry though, if you stick with it, he will begin to learn that his stall tactics are not going to work anymore.

Save the questions and discussions for the times when things really are a choice. For example if you want him to pick up his toys, but it does not necessarily have to be right this moment, using a question lets him know this is a time that is ok to negotiate.

Praise Him When He Does Listen Without Negotiating

The most important thing to help your little lawyer learn to listen without all the arguing, is to acknowledge every time he listens without negotiating. “Thank you so much for listening right away.” “Wow, you listened so fast. Now we can get back to having fun.” Remember that time and again research shows that the best way to increase positive behaviors is to acknowledge and praise them.