What I Learned Arguing With an 8-Year-Old

My step-son and I spent some time alone a couple of weeks ago. My grandmother-in-law passed away and my husband and I went to help his mother. When we got up there, my husband drove his mom on some errands and I was left to play with my newly 8 years-old step-son.

We had a wonderful time. He is currently obsessed with the lego show Ninjago and we played with legos, making up storylines and dancing to the pop punk theme songs of the show. This was my first time spending a significant amount of time alone with him and it was interesting. I learned some things about 8 year-olds, for instance, “poop” is the new word that he finds hilarious and children have their own logic.

We had transitioned from playing with legos to playing outside and were each playing with swords and some other toys. I was playing with a flower and he wanted it, so, he looked at me and said “Give me that.” Now, he and I do not have a particularly formal relationship. We play and talk about this and that and are generally very relaxed with each other. However, this demand had a very specific tone, parents, I’m sure you know the tone I’m talking about. It’s the one that says “I don’t know my boundaries with you and I’m gonna see if I can tell you what to do.”

This was new to me, I just recently reached a point in my life where I handle conflict well with adults, now I was being tested by an 8 year-old. Since we were still playing, I kept the mood light. I have no interest in being an authoritarian with him and I prefer to talk to him like he’s just a smaller human instead of a less intelligent one, so my response was quite simply to pause and say “no.” The result of this wasn’t a temper tantrum (though he did sulk briefly) but a back and forth conversation lasting about half an hour. We argued for a bit, him trying to grab it from me, me holding it over my head, neither of us actually angry, more just testing the relationship we have.

I told him early on that all he had to do to get the toy from me was say please. This caused a burst of annoyance and the logic eventually came out that “big boys don’t have to say please.” This was an interesting turn to me, so we talked about it. “Your dad says please,” I responded. He nodded and said “daddy’s an adult.” Okay, I thought, so “big boys” and “adults” are not the same. He elaborated further, “only little kids say please.”

This is where I learned that children will make up their own rationalizations for how the world works in order to get what they want. There is something very important about this. Adults do this too. In relationships, in parenting, in politics, in religion, we all choose a worldview that pleases us and takes us in what we consider to be the “right” direction.

Our conversation continued where I explained that people didn’t respond very well when they had things demanded of them. That it made them feel like they don’t have a choice, that they have to do what you want. He thought about this and looked at me a little shyly and asked if he could have the toy “please.” I grinned at him and tossed him the toy. We kept playing until my husband got home at which point my step-son immediately ran up to him and said “daddy, Clara and I got into a fight.” My husband smiled and his mother asked “who won?” And winked knowingly at me.

And that was that. There were no tears, no yelling, I didn’t focus on the “right” or “wrong” of the situation. I focused on the expression itself. I choose to be a guide and a sounding board, I choose to be less concerned with exerting my will over him and more concerned with how his world view is developing.

Many children are highly intelligent and are more than capable of having well thought out conversations about their thoughts, emotions, and choices.

By being curious and taking the time to listen to his explanation and talk things through I was able to create an understanding between our perspectives.

Shouldn’t that be the point of all communication?

I’d love to hear stories from you guys. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever “argued” with your little one about? What conclusions did you reach?

About the Author

Clara is a lifelong writer who recently became stepmom to an energetic seven-year-old boy. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Alabama and has written on a variety of subjects including social issues, politics, and music. A yoga practitioner and foodie with a deep passion for health and wellness, she seeks to use her education and experience to help individuals create better lives for themselves and their children. Clara is currently living in Atlanta with her husband and her 80lb ridgeback mix. Clara is a member of the PedSafe Team


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