When it comes to learning how to persuade our parents, we all started somewhere.
As a young, ebullient child, you probably begged your parents for a puppy. They may or may not have obliged, depending on your mastery of the puppy-dog-eyes tactic. As you found yourself approaching the tumultuous stage of adolescence, you probably begged them to buy you a cell phone, with your main plan of attack as the phrase, “But everyone at school has one,” hoping it would evoke pity.
And now here you are, slowly blossoming (maybe not so eagerly) into young adulthood. With this new phase comes new responsibilities and expectations, including more mature methods on how to approach your parents with a disagreement, how to ask for them something you want and how to show that you’re capable of handling what you’re asking for.
No worries, though–we’ve got you covered. Here are some pro tips on how to have a tough talk with your parents.
1. Decide if the argument is worth having
Pick your battles wisely and make sure the tough conversation would be worth it in the long run. Avoid bringing up a topic if you feel that its result won't have a worthwhile positive effect on your future or you would be perfectly happy if the argument didn't happen in the first place. Ask yourself, “Do I truly feel in my gut that I need to bring this up? If I achieve what I want through this conversation, will I feel better than I do currently?”
Dr. Tim Jordan, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, reminds you to consider how your parents would react to your topic when deciding whether to bring something up. “Sometimes parents just can’t understand certain things. They come from a different generation and the way they were brought up may have been different.”
But have no fear – there is a way to break down your parents’ walls. “If you’re open to your parents’ differing opinions, and you show respect for them, listen and mirror them (step into their shoes and repeat to them verbally that you understand their perspective), you can dissipate their resistance,” Dr. Jordan says. “When people feel heard, they’re more willing to listen. And when people feel understood, they’re more willing to try and understand the other side.”
2. Set an intention before you start the conversation
Before diving right into a confrontation, take a few moments to contemplate what you actually want to get out of the conversation. In other words, define what you want and clarify it in simple terms. If it’s permission to travel with your friends this summer, then go into the conversation with only that on your mind. Don’t bring up other problems that are totally unrelated to the topic or unresolved problems from the past, like how they were overprotective in high school or how they never bought you that new car. Unrelated issues will only distract from what you want and from your whole goal in the first place.
Additionally, set an intentional energy to start the conversation with. Do you plan on oozing negative, belligerent energy and an “I’m going to get my way” attitude? That may not be the best plan to get what you want. Instead, go in with positive, calm energy and an attitude of “I want to talk this out with you guys and see if you might agree.”
Lastly, consider the right time and place for the conversation. “The best time is when both sides are calm and not stressed. Don’t expect to have successful tough conversation right when your parents are walking in from work,” Dr. Jordan says. “Also, make sure neither of you is distracted. Make an agreement about putting your phones down or turning them off. Cut off distractions so both sides are present.” In following these guidelines, you’ll increase the chances of your parents approaching the conversation with openness and positive energy.
3. Have a conversation, not an argument
Ineffective arguments involve two people with opposing viewpoints bashing heads and ending at a standstill where neither person actually heard the other one out at all. No one walks away feeling like they learned anything or made a change in the other person. However, in a conversation, two people start with an open mind and willingness to listen and respond maturely. By acting as a qualified equal with your parents, they will gain respect for you, which ultimately means getting closer to your goal.
So how do you avoid an argument? “When you propose something to your parents, stay really calm and just listen. If they have concerns, let them explain and then use mirroring. Say to them, ‘It sounds like you’re worried about me doing this because (reason). Did I get that right?’” Dr. Jordan says. “When you do this, you’re showing your parents that you want to get in their shoes, see their point of view and take their concerns seriously.” When you show that you’re taking them seriously, they will take you seriously in return.
And feel free to do some research beforehand so that you come into the conversation knowledgeable about what you’re discussing and not just fueled with emotion. “If you can fully address your parents concerns with some research, there’s no reason for them to resist,” Dr. Jordan says.
But what do you do if your parents shut you down right away? “Think about why they might be doing this. Is it because they’re crabby? Did you come across as disrespectful or pushy or close-minded? Check in on both sides,” advises Dr. Tim Jordan. “This would be another time to use mirroring and show your parents that you want to understand them. Be sincerely curious and don’t roll your eyes. They will put their defenses down when they feel understood.”
4. Use positive language
Rather than accusing your parents or telling them what they’re not, rephrase and use positive language. For example, you might have the urge to say, “You never let me do anything!” or “You never agree with me!” Rather than making these accusatory statements that only add more fuel to the fire, say something like, “I want you to hear me out. I know that this isn’t immediately something you’re jumping for joy about, but your support is important to me.” Be direct about what your parents can do for you, and phrase it in a way that acknowledges your parents’ capability of lending support.
5. Avoid a power struggle
Your parents may not be accustomed yet to your transition from child to adult, and they might still try to play the “We are your parents. Therefore, we make the rules” card. If you play off this power struggle, the conversation will turn towards a “who has authority” theme and completely detract from both sides hearing each other out.
Instead, refuse to fight fire with fire—it will only take you backwards. If your parents are adamant that they will have the last word and make the final decision, don’t throw a fit. Veronica Nunez, a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University, reminds you to keep your cool. “Parents are overprotective because they love you,” she says. “You have to keep calm and talk to them with patience and honesty.”
Rather than trying to fight it, use their decision as an opportunity to show how much you’ve grown up. Don’t whine or beg, but be articulate in why you truly think you should get your way. Use logical arguments and (subtle) appeals to emotion. Never regress to acting like a child, which will only reinforce that you can’t handle the conflict maturely and won’t be able to handle the outcome.
6. Show empathy and an open mind
When having a discussion with conflicting sides, you’ll only continue to bash heads until you can acknowledge each other’s points of view. To get in this mindset, have empathy for your parents. Rather than shutting down points they make, interrupting, talking over them or tuning them out, really listen to them and ask questions to learn more about their point of view. The more questions you ask, the less assumptions you’ll make; and in turn, the conversation will remain clear and open.
Jennifer Wu, a recent graduate of University of Florida, reminds you to respect your parents’ opinion. “Always let your parents finish speaking because they don’t like it when you interject,” she says. “Remember that they want what’s best for you and are actually on your side even when it seems like they aren’t.” Have the humility to show your parents you care about their point of view, and they will do the same for you.
Having an effective confrontation takes two to tango, so your parents would hopefully be following these tips as well. If you follow all these steps and still come out unsuccessful, know that you did your best, and some things just aren’t going to come easy. That’s life, and it would be quite boring if we always got what we wanted immediately! Just continue to be persistent and you might just get what you want in the end.
Everything might not end up exactly as you want, but it always ends up exactly how it should be.