Michael J. Prince, B.A., Psychology


Discipline: Responding to Commands

RESPONDING TO KID LOGIC Kid-logic can sound rational—for three or four seconds by Dr. Ray Guarendi

Dear Dr. Ray, Any comebacks to kids who always seem to have a comeback to everything you say? I don't always know how to respond to their logic. — A Poor Debater

Socrates was a pretty bright guy, but he was never really challenged. He only argued with grown-ups who totally disagreed with him. He never had to match wits with a 12-year-old who refused to understand why he wasn't allowed to stay out after dark.

The trouble with kid-logic is that it can sound rational, until you ponder it for three or four seconds. Certainly it makes perfect sense to the child using it. In his eyes, if our brain cells weren't so fossilized by age, we'd fully accept his flawless line of reasoning:

Sherlock: Why can't I stay out a half-hour past dark?

Parent: Because it's not safe. For one thing, there are no people around.

Sherlock: If there are no people around, it's safer.

Parent: Why would you want to stay out after dark? None of your friends are allowed to.

Sherlock: That's why I want to. I think I need private times alone.

Parent: I just feel better when I know you're home safe.

Sherlock: Then why do you make me go to school?

Parent: That's completely different.

Sherlock: Yea, it is. At school, I'm gone for six hours. After dark, I'm only gone for half an hour.

The only reasonable conclusion about this sort of discourse is that the longer it goes on, the more illogical it becomes. Put another way, the more we argue, the farther apart we get. There is no resolution because grown-ups and kids don't regularly think on the same plane. Although, kids are much better at pulling us down to their level than we are at pulling them up to ours.

The most logical comeback to kid-logic is no comeback. End the exchange as quickly as possible. Even so, to paraphrase the poet, don't expect Sherlock to go quietly into that good night. He may rage against the dying of the fight. Getting to do what he wants is riding on his ability to fight unfair. Therefore, you may need a few debate-closing options.

Upon hearing resistance to your initial explanation, you might say, "I gave you my reason. You didn't like it." Then say no more. Asking yourself, "When was the last time I won one of these?" should help curb your urge to engage in any further word wrestling.

If you've reiterated the same theme for the same discipline 234 times in the past six months and you're beginning to feel just the slightest pangs of frustration, you'd probably best quietly walk away the instant the debate begins. This isn't rude; it's wise.

Kid-logic breeds parent-illogic, usually culminating in some outburst like "Because I said so, that's why!", or "When you have your house, you can run it your way," or "I can't wait until you have four kids just like you." Careful on this last one. You'll be a grandparent to those kids. Is that who you want to babysit?

One other technique is the ultimate in psychological sophistication: the stupid look. The moment kid-logic begins, stare dumbly. Granted, this is easier for some of us than others, but the stupid look is well worth any time it takes to master. It wordlessly conveys, "Not only am I not going to argue, but I don't even understand what we would argue about." Teens especially quiet down in the face of a stupid look. I think it has something to do with their image of us.

One mother asked me, "What if you just naturally look stupid? How can your kids tell if you're reacting to them or just being yourself?" I had no idea how to answer that, so I gave her a stupid look.