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5 Ways to Have More Fun and Fight Less with Your Kids

Good Housekeeping
August 9, 2012

Mom and Son Baking
Mom and Son Baking

If you keep having the same arguments with your kid, try these smart and surprising ideas to restore the peace:

I walked in the door the other day and promptly tripped over my son's backpack, sending a bag of groceries, car keys, and mail flying across the front hall.

"AJ!" I shouted up the stairs. "You need to move your stuff. Now!"

He emerged from his room and appeared at the top of the staircase, looking baffled. "What stuff?" he asked.

"This!" I shouted, pointing to his backpack, shoes, and laptop computer, all dumped in a pile. "I tell you the same thing every day!"

Indeed, I do. I also say, "Hang up your wet towel," "Put away your clothes," and "Don't put empty containers back into the pantry." It's completely predictable, as are AJ's responses: "Why hang up a towel that's going in the wash anyway?"; "It's my room - I don't care if it's messy!"; and "I didn't do it!"

It's Groundhog Day, with teenagers. Kids this age are wired to argue, says Michael Bradley, Ed.D., author of When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen. "It's actually a healthy phase of development," he explains. "If a kid says, 'Why should I put it away? I'm just going to pick it up again on the way out,' he's thinking for himself in a new way. They disagree, question authority, and push boundaries - it's a normal part of growing up."

That's not to say, however, that the bickering doesn't drive you bonkers - or that you have to tolerate it.

Since the usual responses (yelling, nagging, and making empty threats) often exacerbate the problem, swap them for these clever - and surprising - tactics that will restore the peace in your home.

Related Link: 125 Ways to Be a Better Parent

Your Impulse: Bring up every little misdeed

A Smarter Strategy: Decide what's worth fighting for

Honestly, now: Is an unmade bed a federal crime? Which is to say, it's better to choose which issues are big enough to battle over, advises Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and to bite your tongue about the small stuff. You'll be rewarded with much less bickering. One tactic: Jot down everything you nag your kid about during a typical day and then pick three things to focus on, suggests Borba - more than that will feel overwhelming to her, and she'll tune you out. "Usually the top three are the recurring arguments that create a rift between you--whether it's a perpetually messy room, too much texting, or breaking curfew," Borba says. Tell your teen that you are going to focus on those three things, then look for quick, easy solutions, Borba suggests. "Ask your kid: 'What will help you?' It could be ridiculously simple - say, placing a basketball hoop over the hamper so he tosses his dirty clothes in."

Your Impulse: Lay out the consequences

A Smarter Strategy: Have a few surprises up your sleeve

In general, yes, you want kids to know there will be consequences for misdeeds - that's Parenting 101. But adding an element of surprise can be amazingly effective when dealing with endless arguments. "Instead of pleading for tidiness while putting away your child's backpack for the umpteenth time, stash his book bag in your own closet," says Leah Klungness, Ph.D., author of The Complete Single Mother. When your kid gets around to looking for it and asks, "Where's my book bag?" calmly respond, "Well, where did you leave it?" and wait it out.

Admittedly, adds Klungness, this can get tricky for parents. "Our usual role is to soothe and fix, and here you're going to allow your child to feel a bit of panic and confusion." Let some time elapse--about 15 minutes or so - before returning the bag. Now that you've got your kid's attention, explain that the next time the book bag isn't put away, there will be worse consequences. (Don't specify what - it's better to leave him wondering what you have up your sleeve.) Then, when there's another infraction, quietly follow through with some action, whether it's taking away video games for a week or cutting his allowance.

Related Link: How to Answer Your Kid's Tricky Questions

Your Impulse: Hash it out, then and there

A Smarter Strategy: Declare a truce

It's human nature: We want arguments resolved now, not days from now. But it's better not to act in the heat of the moment with teens, as Bobbie Paulson found out. At the end of a frustrating day, the mom of three recently shouted to her teenagers, "If you don't pick up your shoes, I'll put them in the donation bag!" True to her word, the Franklin Park, PA, mom got a bag and started tossing shoes into it. "But it dawned on me: My kids won't have any shoes, and I'm the one who'll need to buy new ones!"

It's almost always better to revisit the argument a day or two later, when you're both calm, says Karen Ruskin, Psy.D., author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children. Take your teen out for pizza, a walk in the park, or a long drive with no phones or texting. Start by saying, "You and I both know we have a problem." Let your child share her point of view, then validate her feelings and, Ruskin says, "emphasize that all the arguing isn't good for you as individuals or as a family. Suggest that you develop a plan together; if you don't do it then and there, set a time to collaborate. Then shake hands and move on."

Your Impulse: Come down hard and show her who's boss

A Smarter Strategy: Make a deal

You're not a wimpy parent if you occasionally bargain with your kid, says Borba - your teen is more likely to comply with rules she helped set up. It's even OK to bluff a little. Say your ultimate goal is a curfew of 10 P.M.: Start with a lowball offer of 8:30 P.M. and let your teen negotiate up. "Of course, you have to know what your ultimate stopping point is," says Borba. "And never negotiate on items you don't want to give your teen a choice about." Bonus: You may be helping her learn to be assertive--an excellent trait. A recent University of Virginia study showed that teens who stood their ground and calmly argued various points with their parents were also better able to fend off peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.

Your Impulse: Walk away from your teen when he gets in your face

A Smarter Strategy: Get physically close to him

Many parents argue with their kids from another room. But if you're not close by, kids feel they're being spoken at instead of with."We all listen better when we see the other person," says Ruskin. "If you're not making eye contact, teens get the message, 'We're not on the same team,' and their instinct is to push you away." So get up close and personal to forge - and then preserve - some peace.

Related Link: When Bad Friends Happen to Good Kids

3 Tactics That Won't Work (So Don't Bother)

Sarcasm: Parents may resort to sarcastic comments hoping to make a point, but it sets a precedent that can lead teens to fire back equally smart-aleck comments, says Janet Sasson Edgette, Psy.D., author of Stop Negotiating With Your Teen. "If you want respect, you need to be respectful to them."

Strolling Down Memory Lane: Stories about how you never would have gotten away with their behavior when you were their age are so cliché, they just lessen your credibility, says Klungness.

Name-Calling: When you label your kid (e.g., "How can you be so lazy?"), you move into dangerous territory, says Ruskin. "If a kid hears that often enough, those traits become part of his character." Instead, reframe the same idea positively: "I know how busy you are, but you're also part of a team here at home."

-by Charlotte Latvala

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