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I have an 8-year-old son, a 6- and a 2-year-old daughter. My son is a model student but really likes to argue. He's extremely stubborn and always right. When he argues with me, I'll correct him and laugh it off when he continues.

Now, I'm a fan of natural consequences, so long as the child is not in any immediate danger. When he argues with other kids at school, for instance, and I learn about it later, I'll explain to him that arguing is not a very good way to make friends. This is a natural consequence that I'm okay with.

Of his two sisters, only the older one is old enough to argue back. She's much more relaxed and considerate than he is (surprise, she has more friends). But she can also be extremely annoying ("What'cha doing? What'cha doing?! Huh?! Huh?! Huh?!"), so the two of them clash a lot.

Unfortunately, the natural consequence of losing friends doesn't exactly apply at home, and my son does worse than arguing with his sisters. Today, he was holding a treasure box and shaking it, which was making a lot of noise. His older sister wanted to know what was in the box, to which he responded by hiding it. When she asked again, he just ignored her. This kind of thing really gets on my nerves, so I asked my son irritably "Why are you being a jerk? She just wants to see what's in it. What do you get by holding out on her?" This made him feel really bad, but he still wouldn't let her see it. He just pouted and sulked. His sister, unable to take a hint, persisted, so I told her "Just leave him alone. He doesn't feel like being nice right now."

I'm sure there's a better way to handle situations like this, but it's hard to think clearly when I get irritated. In the past, my wife and I had a hard copy of "the rules" that helped us by giving us clear consequences (e.g., rudeness will result in being sent to your room) so we didn't have to make quick decisions when these things happened. But there are two problems with having rules like this:

  1. You end up with a rule for everything, which you have to enforce.
  2. It's not much of a natural consequence.

So how should I deal with this behavior?

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    It would be helpful is you told us the ages of your children! It matters in choosing a method of discipline. Is he having trouble at school besides the friends problem? – anongoodnurse Nov 16 '14 at 0:48
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    I hope you don't mind the tag edit, but natural consequences is such a prominent parenting philosophy and behavior/misbehavior should probably be synonyms, so I thought it'd be inline with your intentions. – Sylas Seabrook Nov 16 '14 at 8:39
  • @anongoodnurse son is 8, sisters are 6 and 2. He's a model student. – David Kennedy Nov 16 '14 at 21:10
  • @JeremyMiller no worries! – David Kennedy Nov 16 '14 at 21:11
  • It seems a natural consequence is that dad gets irritated. Anyway, +1, because I'd like to see the answer, too. I also see the same type of behavior exhibited by older children and adults! – user11394 Nov 16 '14 at 23:19
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The natural consequence of teasing/arguing/fighting with your sibling is that you are teasing/arguing/fighting with your sibling, and this means that one or both of you are unhappy or hurt. The instigating sibling is also teaching the other what they think is an acceptable way to interact with siblings. Therefore, they can expect the other sibling to use the same tactics in the future, leading to an incident where the instigating child gets to feel teased.

The instigating child may not see having an unhappy sibling as a severe enough natural consequence to cease their behavior. In this case, you may want to try encouraging your child's empathy for others.

Empathy will help him understand that he wouldn't want to be disallowed from seeing something for no reason. However, if they continue to behave in this manner, then they should fully expect that their sibling is going to learn from them.

Another natural consequence is your disapproval. The natural consequences of behavior often extend beyond just those immediately involved with behavior. It's reasonable to express your disapproval with the behavior, and guide the siblings to more acceptable behavior, without resorting to rules or more formal discipline. In the example you gave, you could say, "[Son], I don't think you're being kind. If you don't want to share with your sister, then you should tell her you don't want to share right now. [Daughter], you should ask politely if you want your brother to share, but if he says "No" then you need to let him be." Tailor the wording to your needs.

In this way, you're still letting the children resolve the issue on their own, but you have offered clear guidance for resolving the conflict. I don't believe conflict resolution comes naturally to most people, especially children.

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    +1 great advice. The fact of being a parent is that, well, you have to be the authority figure. Allowing the children to resolve the situation together, is great. And sometimes, you just have to make them do it. In this way, you show that sometimes in life, you just have to buckle down and do things (like conflict resolution) you don't like/know how to do. Sometimes it's so easy to be authoritarian, rather than an authority. In the end though, being an authority reduces the number of times you have to fall back to being authoritarian. – Thorin Schmidt Dec 9 '14 at 19:20
  • Empathy means understanding how the other person feels. It is possible for a person to have lots of empathy, and WANT the other person to be unhappy. In that case lots of empathy just means that they become very good at making people unhappy. You need to read the situation carefully. – pojo-guy Jan 4 at 19:57

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