When You Shouldn’t Reason with Your Child

PHOTO-Boy Crying CROPPED Dreamstime PurchaseThis was one of those parenting epiphanies.

One of those life changing “Ah ha” moments.

One of those moments when a light bulb is switched on in my head providing me with illumination, of understanding, that previously had been totally invisible to me. And it all started with a simple request from my three year old son.

“Mommy, please, turn back time.”

His reasoning was quite simple. He wanted to replay an event and change the outcome.

I will admit that I have since rethought the possible error in such early and intense exposure to Star Trek.  But nonetheless . . . there it was.  A request for Mom, all powerful, all knowing Mom, to please turn back time.

I assumed I could simply explain that time cannot be turned back, by me or anyone. And with this new and reasonable information, and all would be well with my child.

Feel the power of logic.

Are you guessing at what came next?  It would be a gross understatement to say that he did not believe me. I tried again to explain the impossibility of complying with such a request. And with each additional statement I made, he grew more and more agitated. Frankly, it’s a gross understatement to use the word “agitated”. Washing machines agitate. This was more like a food processor…on steroids.

I pressed forward, certain that it would be my NEXT statement that would be the one…the one that would unlock understanding in his little three-year-old brain. Certainly if I could just word it in a way that was simple and plain enough for his undeveloped thinking to grasp, then surely his whirling and screeching and flailing would cease.

I cannot bring myself to share with you just how long we went back and forth…how long I bought into this lie.

I reasoned. —  He whirled.

I calmly responded. —  He screeched.

I pleaded for calm.– He sobbed and flailed.

Minutes turned into…..well, like I said, I don’t want to go there.

Then suddenly it hit me. I was NOT going to unlock his understanding on this topic. I had to accept something that was totally new to me. Reasoning was an act in futility. On this issue, at this time, with his brain’s current wiring, understanding will not be achieved. And to make matters worse, part of him was feeding on the energy of the frenzy. Our whole exchange was frustrating, exhausting, angering and yet feeding him all at once.

His motions became so erratic they were really a bit frightening. He threw himself about in such a way that he was at risk personal injury.

So I shifted gears. I grabbed hold of him, hugged him tight in a way that conveyed love and firm resolve and changed my speech.  Now I was saying, “Mommy’s sorry.  Mommy’s sorry.  Let’s go somewhere else. Let’s find another topic.” And now poured my energies into redirecting this conversation somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere where he could recenter himself.

It took a long while to talk him down. And while it was certainly disconcerting for me, I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for him to be at the mercy of these strong and passionate internal forces that took over his reasoning.

But here is what I learned from this.


Never let him go there again.


Watch for the windup.

Since that lesson, I’ve always kept an eye out for the downward spiral that can result in a state where logic cannot be absorbed. It really was a rare event. But I’m still amazed at how long I continued with the same approach before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere.

In today’s contemporary advice on parenting there is great emphasis on gaining consensus and understanding from your child. And I think that there is often great value in this approach. But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t always possible, particularly with a highly wired child. So give yourself permission to sometimes say a quickly worded “no” and then put your energies into a rapid redirection campaign.  Understanding may not be achieved, but peace and order will. Understanding will have its day; it just may have to wait a bit.


4 Responses to “When You Shouldn’t Reason with Your Child”

  1. Carrie Says:

    My non-sizzler is very highstrung–she’d argue for hours with a fencepost–and I find that she’s actually more of a challenge in this area than my sizzler is. My sizzler can be distracted….this one….not so much! I lean toward, “This conversation is over. It’s time to move on.”

  2. Trish @ A House Upon The Rock Says:

    My struggle is getting pulled in. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. (insert huge smile here because I really do know that is isn’t wise, but I fall into the trap anyway.) And what’s worse is I hate arguing. Period.

    But my sizzler, our oldest (9), seems to thrive on it. I mean, she’ll even argue with us against something she loves. AND distraction isn’t so easy. It’s mind-boggling to me. I’m a well reasoned 40+ something older mama, I should be able to handle this right?

    I know in my head that these children require a different parenting approach, but changing what I know to actually doing it seems to allude me all the time.

    Thanks for the reminder to let it go and move on. I need to do that more.

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