Teaching Children to Have Healthy Arguments

Teaching Children to Have Healthy Arguments by Susan Ingram

{2:48 minutes to read}

These increasingly tense political times have ushered in a period of animosity and lack of discourse that is distressing to many people, including those of us who work in the field of conflict resolution. During this past year, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we can maintain our humanity and civility while we are constantly being battered (from our President on down) with displays of abusive and self-serving conduct.

Over the years, I’ve written many blogs discussing how all of us can have better conversations that help us arrive at consensus and mutual satisfaction with our decisions. That’s the scenario in which we reject rigid positioning and black and white thinking. When we take an interest in the other person and really listen to what is said, we can change the game so that there’s no longer a winner and a loser, but two participants who have each succeeded in getting their needs met.

Recently, my interest was piqued by an article written by Adam Grant, an American psychologist, professor and author. The article is entitled “Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?” Who wouldn’t be intrigued with a title like that! In it, Grant emphasizes the importance of children learning, ideally within their families as they are growing up, how to have healthy arguments. Among the benefits of this approach — it encourages creativity and innovative thinking.

And there may be other benefits as well. Grant cites a study conducted by psychologist Robert Albert of children ages 5 to 7. He found that the children whose parents argue constructively felt more emotionally safe, and when they were followed over the next 3 years they showed greater empathy and concern for others.

At the end of his article, the author suggests 4 rules for teaching kids how to have healthy disagreements:

  1. Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.
  2. Argue as if you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong.
  3. Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.
  4. Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

These sound like some pretty good suggestions to follow, even for full-grown adults!

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