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How (Not) to Argue with Gifted Children

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Updated July 12, 2014

Mother and Daughter Arguing
Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley Collection/Getty Images

Gifted children, especially the verbally gifted ones, are often compared to lawyers: they argue as if they are in court. The case they are usually arguing is their own. They argue about rules, about punishment, discipline, bedtime, dinner. Basically, they'll argue about nearly anything they don't like or they want to avoid. Although a gifted child can make excellent arguments, it's important for parents to make sure they remain in charge.

No matter how bright a child is, he or she is still a child, and children, even the gifted ones, need guidance. They need rules and they need consequences when they break those rules. Gifted children should never be excused from bad behavior because they make a good case for having broken a rule. If children can talk their way out of the consequences for bad behavior, they, not their parents, end up being in control.

Tips for Maintaining Control -- or How to Keep from Arguing with Your Gifted Child
 
  1. Make the Rules Clear.
    If you have to deal with a little lawyer, you'll have to start thinking like one. That means that you need to anticipate that your child will find any loophole you have left in a rule. For example, if you tell your child that it's time for bed and you later find him playing -- in bed -- you can be sure your child found the loophole. You did not say he couldn't play. You only said it was time for bed. Your child needs to know ahead of time what it means when you say it's time for bed.

  2. Make the Consequences for Breaking the Rules Clear.
    A gifted child may have to concede that he has broken a rule, but he can still argue over the consequences. He may think the rule was unfair or the punishment is unfair, and with gifted kids, issues of fairness are not simply matters of debate. They often have a deep sense of justice. Fairness is less of an problem, however, if the consequences for breaking the rule is clear from the beginning.
     
  3. Avoid Negotiating Consequences After a Rule is Broken.
    Some gifted children can argue a case so well that their parents concede and negotiate a new consequence. Negotiating after the rule is broken is almost as bad as eliminating the consequence altogether. You may actually agree with your child, but negotiating consequences needs to be done before rules are broken, not after. That means that if a child had questions about a rule and its consequences or didn't agree with either of them, he or she should have asked at the time the rule was laid out. This is another reason for making the rules, and the consequences for breaking them, clear from the beginning.
     
  4. Don't Argue Back.
    This is a hard tip to follow because it is easy to get pulled into a debate. Parents of gifted children can't help at times being impressed with the ability of their young child to reason things out and present a good, logical argument. These parents may also want to answer all of their child's questions, for example, "Why should I have to go to bed before it's dark when....?" However, the best response at this point is to say something like, "You knew it was bedtime, but you refused to go. We can talk about a different bedtime tomorrow, but you still will not be able to watch your Bill Nye the Science Guy video tomorrow because you knew that is the punishment for not going to bed when you're supposed to."
     
  5. Increase the Consequence if Your Child Continues to Argue.
    Give your child a chance to stop the arguing by giving a warning first. For example, you might say, "If you argue with me again, you won't be able to watch Bill Nye for two days." If your child continues to argue, let him know he's lost his Bill Nye privileges for two days and if he argues again, it will be three days. Gifted kids are bright enough to know they need to stop arguing.
     
  6. Be Consistent and Follow Through with Consequences.
    It does no good to take away privileges if it is done in word only. Gifted kids will see that weakness and exploit it! The next time they want to argue, they'll go ahead and argue, regardless of your threats, because they will have seen that your threats are empty ones.
     
  7. Make Consequences Reasonable and Enforceable.
    It's not very useful to tell a four-year-old child that she won't be able to have friends over for three months. That is much too long, assuming you manage to enforce it for that long. Gifted children can usually find something else to do to replace whatever privilege you have taken away, so its loss becomes meaningless.

These tips work best when parents use them from the start. However, they will work even with older children, but the older the child is, the longer it will take for these strategies to work. Consistency is the key. If you give in and argue, you basically have to go back to square one. Actually, you end up at square -five because when you give in, you've reinforced the idea that arguing works!

By all means enjoy your child's wonderful reasoning ability. Just don't let it control your family life.
Related Video
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Signs Your Child is Gifted
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