Teaching your child to disagree respectfully

Learn how to teach your child to express their opinions and respectfully disagree.

Everyone has a right to an opinion. By teaching your child to value the opinions of others and strategies to engage in respectful, positive conversations, you are equipping them with valuable skills. Conflict is present in all facets of life. There will always be someone with a different idea or opinion or someone who wants to do things differently. When we have the ability to engage in respectful communication and disagree with respect, we can work through conflicts peacefully and strengthen our understanding and relationships with others.

Michigan State University Extension has some tips to help teach your child skills for respectful communication and disagreeing respectfully.

Teach skills for perspective taking. Perspective taking, or taking the time to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see what the world looks like from where they are standing, is a crucial skill for positive interactions with others when you are disagreeing. When we understand the importance of perspective taking, we can engage with others to better understand their views. Many disagreements are fundamentally rooted in misunderstanding. Teach your child to ask questions, gather information and really try to understand someone else’s side.

Practice active listening. Active listening happens when you pay attention to another person, show you are listening, provide feedback, defer judgment and respond appropriately. This is a process that takes time to learn and practice. Sometimes our first instinct is to respond or react to someone else’s idea immediately, but when you slow down and take the time, active listening can help you deal with conflict.

Walk the walk. Sometimes adults adopt a “Do what I say, not what I do” attitude with their children, but we know children will ultimately do what you do because they learn from watching us. They need to see you disagree respectfully to learn to value that skill and also learn how to do it. Show them respect when you disagree with their opinion. Take the time to gain their respect.

Give skills to handle strong emotions. Sometimes when we disagree, we have a strong emotional reaction. If we can’t control that reaction, we might resort to yelling, cursing or even calling names. These behaviors put an end to any productive conversation. Give your child language, skills and strategies to identify and express emotions so they can react calmly and respectfully. This might mean they need to take a few minutes to calm themselves down before they engage in a conversation, and that’s OK.

Adopt a both/and mentality. Just because your opinions differ, doesn’t necessarily mean someone is wrong. Many situations do not have just one right answer, so try changing your either/or attitude to a both/and one. Instead of “You’re wrong, that movie was really funny, I loved it!” you can teach them to say, “I really loved the movie, it seems like you didn’t think it was funny. I would be interested to hear more about your opinion.”

Practice good, nonverbal communication. When someone’s words do not match their nonverbal cues like body language, voice, tone and facial expressions, we are sent two different messages. For instance, if someone says they are very excited to be at your party, but they are frowning, crossing their arms and looking at their watch when they say it, you are going to doubt if their words are true. When we are engaging in a respectful discourse, it’s important that our nonverbal cues match our words, which we can do by understanding nonverbal communication.

Show the difference between disagreeing and harmful or critical interactions with others. When you yell, call names or use hurtful language that is not respectfully disagreeing. For respectful disagreeing to occur, each person must feel like they are being heard and respected.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2017 impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2017, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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