Why everything turns into an argument and how to make it stop

Your daughter has just asked if her friend can stay for dinner. You have to say no but are afraid of the tantrum that may ensue. To soften the blow, you give a long-winded explanation to justify your decision. The hope is that your child will see where you are coming from and agree with you.

To no surprise, she’s not having it. Instead, you’re now in a yelling match, doors get slammed, and the tears are flowing. An innocent request has turned into a blow up. Sound familiar? What went wrong?

Chances are you gave in to the temptation to JADE as a replacement for setting an assertive boundary.

JADE stands for:

Everyone uses JADEing often under the guise of being transparent, compassionate and open. But JADEing never has the outcome we want in a conversation.

So, why do we do it?

We JADE to explain our boundaries and make it easier to say “no”. We want the explanation to convince the other person of our point of view, and to change their point of view. We hope, as a result, that our boundary or our “no” won’t seem as harsh. As a parent of emotional or reactive children, we try especially hard to avoid any potential fallout.

Why it doesn’t work

Unfortunately, what JADEing actually does is dilute your boundary and invite confrontation. Your child is as committed to their point of view and is now going to try to poke holes in your argument. Every opportunity you give them to negotiate with you, they will. Now they have an agenda: take your justification, and attempt to solve it so they can get their way.

“But mom, we will be quiet and we can even cook supper for you and do the dishes. This will be easier for you if Lacy comes over.”

As nice as it sounds, you know it will mean more dishes, more mess, and, as quiet as they try to be, they have so much fun together it will get out of hand.

If you take their bait and offer a counterpoint or try to defend your position, you have now lost the upper hand and are caught in a loop.

Both of you have now and lost sense of what the point was in the first place and are in a battle of wills. In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker explains that the person who tries not to hear your “no” is actually trying to control you. It becomes less about finding an appropriate solution, and more about power and getting one’s way. Children seek to assert their independence by jockeying for this type of power or authority. While it’s usually nothing malicious – they don’t mean to disrespect your need for quiet – there is an innate drive to assert themselves and seek immediate pleasure and gratification (aka have all their requests met).

Keeping control

As a parent it is important to maintain an authoritative role. Having the upper hand is not about blind power without reason. It is about compassion and safety for your children as they grow. Children crave and need structure and guidance. The rules set by parents, when done with compassion and clarity, give children a sense of security. If they know what the edges are, they can freely express themselves within them.

It is actually stressful for a child to feel they are responsible for setting limits themselves. When they don’t know what the edge is, there is an underlying anxiety of always toppling over them. Having boundaries and maintaining authority helps children know the consequences of crossing the lines. When children understand the consequences of behaviour, and it is consistent, they do not need to carry the stress of uncertainty which can lead to frustration and anxiety.

Childrens’ and teens’ brains still developing  reasoning  and impulse control skills. Assertive boundaries enable children to self-regulate in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

When you JADE as a way to make your boundaries understood, you give up the parental control your children need to feel emotionally secure.

Because I said so?

You may be wondering if it is ever appropriate to explain your reasoning to a child or teen. Because every rule has an exception, some teens and children truly need to understand why you are saying or requesting something.

For them it is about awareness of self and others and making sense of the world around them. When some children hear “because I said so”, they feel they have no power in the relationship. This can lead to increased rebellion.

Situations like these are about timing; every conversation with a child is an open ended one. Saying, “I’m giving a no to that request right now and that is my decision” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with them later and take time to say, “I understand it was hard for you to hear that ‘no’. Can you tell me how it made you feel and what you were thinking, and then I’d like to share what I was feeling and thinking”. This type of ongoing connection will make setting boundaries more comfortable in the long run. It also won’t derail your need for the boundary in that moment.

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