Keeping your cool when you’re dealing with argumentative kids

Children counseling

Keeping your cool when you’re dealing with argumentative kids

There’s a famous quote in parenting circles: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Simply meaning that many people have an influence on children, from aunts and uncles, to grandparents, educators, family friends and siblings.  When you are a nanny, it is your responsibility too, not just to look after the children, but help to guide them. Every opportunity in a child’s life is an opportunity to learn and grow. Even conflict.

Backchat, rude talk, full blown arguments – they all have the potential to drag us into conflict with children. Sometimes, too, when children meet someone new – a new friend or a new carer, like a nanny, they can act out, push boundaries, with the aim of testing just exactly what they can get away with.

Handling arguments effectively

There are number of ways that you can handle arguments effectively, and as a nanny, help the children in your care to understand what’s making them upset, and more importantly, how to deal with those times constructively.

Parenting author Maggie Dent says that often rude talk and back chat start around the time children go to school, or start socialising in other circles outside of the family unit. Usually, it’s a result of them trying out new behaviour.

As adults, we often think that it’s our right to be ‘respected’ by children. And when they act out, or argue back, we often make the mistake of being reactive – because it’s natural to think that in that particular situation children are being ungrateful or disrespectful.

Adults need to model behaviour. We need to earn a child’s trust, set boundaries and show children how to treat others. Maggie Dent’s magic words are: ‘coach, to re-educate and to redirect’. Talk about the kind of words you’d prefer children to use when they are expressing displeasure.

Behavioural ‘patterns’

We all have patterns of behaviour, and in families there can be a natural tendency to get locked into ‘patterns of relating’ no matter how mindfully parents try to avoid this from happening. Watch siblings interact – see how they can ‘push each others buttons’ so easily?

Children learn quickly how to do this to adults too – for whatever reason, whether it be attention seeking or fun, or just out of habit.

As a nanny, you can help the children in your care, and influence them too.  Here are some ways that you can handle argumentative situations with children.

  1. Diffuse the situation – come back to it later.
  2. If you’re getting angry, remove yourself – take a few minutes out to calm down.
  3. Use your scary face – the one that means “Enough is Enough.”

As a nanny, you will be in situations where seemingly the tiniest thing has the opportunity to turn into a full-blown argument! Children can be unpredictable – sometimes saying it’s time to leave the playground, or ‘no more X-box time’ can result in conflict. The child wants to do one thing, you want them to do another. It’s perfectly natural that arguments will arise from time to time.

Children need to know that they have a voice. It is important to say – “Look I hear you, but these are the reasons why you need to this right now …”  In dealing with conflict, showing empathy for the other person’s position is a positive start to resolution.

Not every situation is open to negotiation.  Keep boundaries firm, don’t give in because you want the children to ‘like’ you. While it is important not to crush their personalities, and it is important to allow them to have an opinion or make a choices, when appropriate, children also need to accept that as the nanny, you have authority when the parents are not in charge.

Children need to understand limits – but there’s a fine line between setting and enforcing the ‘rules’ and allowing kids a little pushback when they want to express it. The type of personality they are will determine how you manage this. Some kids are naturally acquiescent, others will want to debate every point.

Development and biology
All children develop at their own individual pace. But most children don’t really begin to look at the world around them and become less ego-centric until about the age of 7. And it’s not until about the age of 10 or 11 that they become truly capable of developing their own logic. The prefrontal cortex (the home of reasoning and arguing in the brain) is not fully developed in many people until they are well into their teens.

So – as frustrating as an argument with a child is – because most likely because they will ‘not make any sense’ it’s important to remember that their feelings are real. And feelings need to be acknowledged so that children can make sense of their own anger or disappointment or whatever emotion the situation has caused them. This is critical because understanding their own feelings will help them better relate to others as they grow older.

Helping kids solve conflict with each other

Children bicker amongst themselves too, and they don’t necessarily have the cognitive tools to resolve conflict. It’s easy to become exasperated listening to endless fights over Lego, or whose turn it is for a chore or activity. As a nanny, you can help children understand that arguing highlights problems.   And problems present an opportunity to help children to think through solutions.

Learn to say ‘sorry’ 

When it comes to conflict with children, arguing back is a waste of time and energy – it produces no real productive results. When you feel like your patience is being tested, you are better to step back and close the argument down.

Sometimes it can help to suggest a joint activity as a way of reconnect if a child is upset or angry. For example, “I’ll help you get started packing up the toys…” “Let’s race to the car!” or “Next time, I’ll challenge you to such-and-such a game on the X-box” to demonstrate that even though there’s been conflict, you’re still on friendly terms – but you’re firmly in charge.

It is much better for everyone if you can confront the situation when feelings have subsided and you can talk openly and honestly about what happened, and how it might be better handled next time. And always remember, if you need to, it’s important to apologise. Children appreciate a grown-up who can genuinely say ‘sorry’ if there’s been a misunderstanding or conflict of any kind.