How to Win/Win Arguments with Children

As parents it can be really challenging to negotiate or argue with a child, of any age. Often it can escalate as each of you battle your own corner by which time the principle has overridden the point. I’m sure you’ve witnessed a similar situation or seen someone arguing the point rather than searching for agreement or common ground. In order to help alleviate some of those tensions I thought you might like to know an exercise I use and teach to pupils. As a parent too, I know this technique has come in very handy when negotiating with three under-11s. I hope you get something from it too – Ben.

How chunking can save your negotiation game


To get an understanding of chunking so that differing opinions and decisions can be successfully negotiated.


To improve communication with your child, or anyone. Avoiding conflict and for differing points of view find agreement.

Let’s Start

Chunking is a useful tool and this exercise focuses on how it can be used to get beyond conflict and disagreement to better negotiations.

What is Chunking?

I’m choosing to explain chunking as dealing with bits of information in a organised block, or chunk. Associated bits of information can be gathered together as a chunk of information, or even experiences and feelings. To understand how someone is defining their world, we can look at how they chunk it.

Chunking also relates to how we can manoeuvre these bits of information to better understand their relationship to the person.

To illustrate:

Begin with one chunk such as ‘transportation’.

Have a think about methods of transportation. Boat, plane, car, van etc may all come to mind. This step takes you from a general term to something more specific, what we can call ‘chunking down’ – you can also chunk up, chunk left or right. Let’s take plane as our example.

Chunk down again. What kind of plane? Perhaps, jumbo jet.

Then down a further level: Boeing jumbo jet. And then further to Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Each level demands for more detail, more specificity.

Chunking up is the reverse starting with a ‘Boeing 747’ and then chunking all the way up to ‘transportation’.

Or try another example. Start with ‘primates’. Then ‘human being’. How many steps might it take to arrive to ’16 year old male, with brown hair and blue eyes, 5’8″‘?

In brief, to chunk up and reach the common ground you can ask:

What does .. x .. give you?

To chunk down, you can ask:

How/what specifically?

Let’s Do

The idea behind chunking in negotiations or arguments is that as you chunk up, you will reach an agreement of common purpose where both parties’ needs are satisfied.

When you’ve got to the level where you do agree, you then sift through mutually conducive ways that agreement can be met. If disagreement occurs check back in with the shared agreement.

You’re looking for opportunities to agree.

For example

Here are a couple of scenarios that you might come across:

Increase in pocket money


Point of conflict: I want more pocket money.

>What does getting more pocket money give you?

So I can buy a game.

>What does getting the game give you?

It makes me happy


Point of conflict: I don’t want to give you any more money

>What does not giving more pocket money give you?

It makes me feel less of a bank and gets my child to save money

>What does feeling less of a bank and getting your child to save money give you?

It makes me happy.

Now that common ground has been found – both people want to be happy – you can discuss ways how to achieve that. Taking you both away from the area of conflict.

To chunk down from this may be quite rapid. Perhaps pocket money is increased slightly temporarily while the money is saved. Agreement is found when both parties are on track to get what they both want.

Staying up late


Point of conflict: I want to stay up late

>What does staying up late give you?

There’s a film I want to watch

>What does watching the film give you?

It makes it feel special to stay late and watch it.

>What does that give you?

It makes me happy


Point of conflict: I want you to get a good night’s sleep

>What does your child getting a good night’s sleep give you?

That they are ready for the next day and I don’t have to shovel them out of bed.

>What does that give you?

Less frustration in the mornings, I’m more l relaxed.

>What does that give you?

Makes me a lot happier

You both want to be happy. You’ll also notice that there’s no disagreement about staying up late and watching the film, just about the potential consequences. How both sides settle this could be by agreeing to watch some of the movie and the rest the following night. The parent minimises their concerns about the morning, and the child gets two opportunities to stay up late. Alternatively, the film is recorded and watched on an evening when there is less worry about the next morning.

By either chunking down to specificity or up to a common ground, we move away from where there is disagreement, move away from conflict and bring about the ability to co-exist.

Better questions

A good use of chunking is when we use it to ask better questions. This can often be the case with children when they feel overwhelmed by a situation. By chunking down and getting specific we reveal that the problem or challenge is far more manageable than we first thought.

An example I often talk about came from a session I was running with a group of Year 8s. One boy shared that his maths teacher had said he was crap at maths. Naturally to hear that you’re crap in the entire subject of maths must make you feel rubbish, which the boy agreed it had done. By chunking down and getting specific it became apparent how quickly we turned such a generalised statement into something more useful. All that needed to be asked was:

How specifically?

Had it been the entire subject of maths? Unlikely. Was it a particular bit of maths that he wasn’t very good at? If it was multiplication, what particular area? Perhaps it was his 3 times table? Or maybe division?

Imagine how much easier it would be for that pupil to spend some additional time a day to learn the 3 times table or division compared to the task of studying the monumental subject of maths as indicated in the original statement.

Last thoughts 

It’s similar to the statement: ‘you’re a rubbish driver’. What use is that statement? How would someone go about improving their driving? How would anyone be motivated to get better? However if I was told my parallel parking wasn’t great, I’d be more inclined to practise to get it better.

By either chunking down to specificity or up to a common ground, we move away from where there is disagreement, move away from conflict and bring about the ability to co-exist.

Thanks for reading

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About the Author

Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.

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