Every now and then, I feel it happen. I feel myself getting sucked into an argument with my eight-year-old son over the simplest of things. The type of outerwear needed on a particular day, maybe, or where a certain toy should be stored. And because he and I are a lot alike (let’s call us tenacious), we both have a tendency to dig our heels in.
I make the mistake sometimes of thinking that my argument is based in logic (it’s cold, so you need a coat), while his is based on emotion or an inclination to be disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable. But I have discovered the question I can ask him to get to the root of his argument:
“Why is this important to you?”
Something about the word “important” signals to him that 1. I’ve figured out that it is important to him (most of the conversation up to this point has probably been him trying to relay this fact) and that 2. I am listening and want to know why.
His answer almost always surprises me. By asking “Why is this important to you?” I recently figured out that as it starts to get slightly warmer outside, whatever coat he wears to school in the morning is also the coat he has to wear during recess in the afternoon, no matter how much it has warmed up outside. He’d had a few miserably sweaty recesses and on that particular day, he was dreading another one.
Until I specifically asked him why it was important to him, he’d only articulated that he didn’t “need a coat” because he “wasn’t cold.” Once I understood the underlying issue, I helped him layer in a way that would enable him to wear a lighter jacket for recess.
I don’t bust out the question very often; only when he seems especially upset or frustrated about something that — to me — doesn’t seem like something to be especially upset or frustrated about. That’s my cue that it’s important to him for a reason I haven’t yet figured out.