Parenting #101: “The conversational dilemma and arguing with your child”

My two boys are extremely different. Cole is my arguer. If I say…well, just about anything, he will tell me I am wrong. He often asks “why” and try and talk his way out of every directive. It’s exhausting. When it comes to healthy conversations where we could find some connection, he completely shuts down and it takes all of my patience to find common ground.

Jonah, our younger son, is the exact opposite. We have amazing conversations even though he is ten. Many of our talks (located in previous posts) have resulted into my coming to a greater understanding of myself. He asks poignant questions, makes interesting observations, and soul-searched comments. It is a blessing and a curse of his over-active mind.

So I was completely taken back when an argument erupted between the two of us on our way to his art class. I was asking if he wanted to go to the pool after I picked him up from class. I suggested I would bring his bathing suit and he could change at the pool and we could have fun night swimming until the pool closed. It was shocking when he refused. He did not refuse going to the pool. He refused getting changed there. He insisted if we were to go to the pool, he must get changed at home. He did not see logic when I explained it would take a lot of time or even when I insisted he didn’t need to change out in the open, but in a changing room. Nothing I said worked and as he became more frustrated, his tone and words became angry and sarcastic.

“Forget it, J, I will pick you up and bring you home and you will get changed. It’s fine,” I said angrily. “But your tone and your words are hurtful and I need a few minutes.” I actually don’t remember what he said in return, but he continued to spiral out of control over how he could not and would not be able to use a public restroom to change. “Fine,” I continued. “I get it. I hear you saying you are not comfortable. The change has been made.” But still this was not enough and his words became even more angry and hurtful. “Jonah, if you continue to speak to me this way, you will have a consequence.” This did not work at all.

“God dammit, Mother,” he said. “I am so angry. I am saying very bad words in my head about myself and the world. I want to kill myself. I don’t want to live. I am so furious right now.”

If you have a child who struggles with anxiety and autism, a spiral this big in this short time span is common. Jonah and I have spent years working through his anger and frustration to keep him from hurting himself. In the past, he would have started to rip his own hair out or punched himself repeatedly in the face until he was black and blue. Fortunately, we have moved past these emotional regulation issues, but he still struggles with his emotions.

As he continued, I realized he was not this angry at me, but he was angry with himself. “Wait, Jonah, are you angry at yourself because I told you that my feelings were hurt?”

“Yes,” he yelled. “And you were going to give me a consequence. What is that about?” It was a good question. What did make me jump to threatening him with a consequence so quickly. “What are you going to do? Take away my iPad? Why would you do that? I was just telling you how I felt.”

I didn’t have an answer, but in this moment, I asked him for a “pause”. This is something I do sometimes when I need a minute to think. I need a moment to step away from words. I need to breathe.

“Two minutes,” I said. “We need two minutes just to be silent.” He was not interested in this pause, and he expressed this would only make him angrier. Since I knew this was not going to happen, I pressed the “pause” more. So we did. We sat in silence for two minutes. During those two minutes, I breathed. I tried to clear my mind from our argument and focus on anything else. I did not use this as a time to create an argument. I used this time to find space. At the end of the two minutes, I said, “Okay, Jonah. First, I want to apologize for my part in our argument. I will pack your bathing suit and we can decide what we are going to do when I pick you up from class.”

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“Well, I am still really angry,” he said. “I spent those two minutes saying everything mean I could about you and life and myself.”

“Yes,” I said. “I could see that.” It was right around then that we pulled up at his class. I made sure that he was in an okay head space for class, and I then dropped him off. I went home, packed up our towels and his bathing suit, and waited to go back and pick him up.

When I finally picked him up about an hour later, he was all smiles from drawing. I asked him if he still wanted to go to the pool and he said yes. I told him I had his suit and he said he wanted to get changed at home. I agreed and headed home.

“You know,” I said when we were driving again, “It really would save a lot of time if you were willing to get changed at the pool, but I am happy to take you home first.”

“Really?” he said. “A lot of time?”

“Yeah,” I said. He thought for a moment.

“Do you think I could just wear the shorts I have on?” I looked at his athletic shorts. I never even thought of that. I nodded. “That would save even more time,” he said. I agreed.

By the time we got to the pool, we were back on common ground, but as we got closer, I didn’t see anyone there. The pool, we soon realized, was closed. Thunder.

Jonah and I laughed.

“I guess that’s the Universe,” he said.

“Yep, what better way to teach us,” I agreed. “I’m really sorry, J. I am just so used to your not being the son I argue with. I think I just got ahead of myself. It was wrong for me to throw out a consequence so quickly. That’s not how we operate and I forgot that.”

“Yeah, that felt really bad. I always tell you my feelings and then you were going to give me a consequence and I didn’t deserve one,” he said. It was then I realized that I had built a relationship with my son that treated him more like an adult and in that minute I treated him like a child and I was a punitive parent. I was punishing him for doing the exact thing I have encouraged his entire life. He was reacting in his way, and I overreacted in mine. “But it really doesn’t matter because the Universe really showed us.”

“Yep, we got all upset and twisted up over something that couldn’t happen anyway. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Love and Light!

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