Some Children are Masterful at Exploiting Loopholes in Your Rules
At age eight, Shane has become adept at detecting loopholes in the rules given him by his parents.
For example, the rule was that he couldn’t go to Robert’s house without permission. When his father found out he had been at Robert’s house earlier in the day, Shane had an argument.
“You said I couldn’t go to Robert’s house,” Shane said. “You didn’t say anything about his front yard and that’s where I was. I was standing in his front yard.”
When they sense a loophole, some school-age children between ages six and 12 will try to take advantage of the situation. This can lead to frustration for parents and sometimes useless arguments.
“That’s not fair that I’m being punished,” nine-year-old Samantha complains. “I didn’t hit my brother like you said…I pushed him.”
Many school-age children, whether they are more challenging kids or not, will try to debate every issue. For instance, when Eric got in trouble at school for squirting juice on a girl during lunch, he debated his mother about whether it was intentional or not.
“I was just pretending to zap her with a ray gun,” Eric contended. “It wasn’t my fault the juice squirted out of the box!”
And they may try to keep the argument going so they can avoid taking responsibility and doing the right thing. If they can wear you down, they have won and they will find ways to get away with more in the future.
When his mother found a watch in Robby’s room, she asked him where it came from. “This girl at school gave it to me,” Robby said.
His mother said she didn’t believe a girl had given him the watch and she said that if he took things that didn’t belong to him that was the same as stealing. “But I didn’t steal it,” Robby argued. “She didn’t want it any more, because I found it on the floor.” No matter what his mother said, Robby had an answer.
While all children need to have rules clearly stated, this is even more important for the difficult child, as youngsters like Shane and Robby are capable of fairly complex reasoning and are able to remember whatever contradictory things you may have told him “before.”
It is equally important to be certain in your own mind what rules and expectations are reasonable. With the more challenging child, you cannot appear to be unsure or insecure.
For kids like Shane, Samantha, Robby, and Eric, I’ve developed the acronym S.M.I.L.E. Because firmness and consistency are so important in effectively dealing with those school-age kids who like to debate issue, S.M.I.L.E may help on occasion to save a prolonged debate or argument.
The S in S.M.I.L.E. stands for “Say what you mean.” That indicates that you have to be very clear in indicating the rules, limits, and expectations. Don’t provide any loopholes for your argumentative child.
The M stands for: “Mean what you say.” You have to be very sure that when you set out a rule or lay out your expectations that you mean it. You have to be willing to stick to the rule.
The I stands for: “Insure that you’re the same every day.” It’s not enough to be clear, reasonable, and firm on your good days. You have to be firm and consistent in what you say every day.
The L stands for: “Let your child experience the consequences.” In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. You also have to be willing to back it up. For many children, this means allowing them to experience the consequence of breaking a rule or violating an expectation.
The E stands for: “Empower yourself to be a consistent and firm parent.” Give yourself the permission and power to be a parent who believes in the limits, rules, and expectations you provide for your child.
Consistency, firmness, and monitoring are very important in order to be effective in dealing with a child who is demanding, exploitative, argumentative, and persistent. Children who know their parents will stand firm and will enforce rules are less likely to even try to talk you into making an exception “just this once.”