Posted on November 04, 2022
How do I stop my children from fighting?
I sometimes wonder if my children are auditioning for a new instalment of The Hunger Games as they take swipes at each other that Mike Tyson would be proud of. They can be full of love and affection for each other one minute, and the next it’s like a scene from a Rocky film.
So, how do I stop my children fighting?
This is a question that I get asked by most of the parents that come along to my workshops, and it’s also one that I have asked myself on many occasions.
We want our children to get along, to love each other, to share, to laugh and play like the children in the Disney movies, right?
My answer to the above question is simply that, you don’t.
There’s an argument to suggest that sibling rivalry is actually a natural and primitive part of human develop. Children depend on their parents or carers for survival so fighting for their attention can be the child’s way of ensuring that they aren’t forgotten about.
While the shouting, crying, whining and fighting can be difficult for us to tolerate or listen too, especially if the dog is barking and Baby Shark is blaring in the background, these seemingly negative interactions between our children can actually be a positive thing.
Children often use their relationships with siblings to test boundaries and try out behaviours to see how the other person responds. In doing this, they learn how their actions impact on others, they learn about emotions, resolving difficulties and how to communicate positively with one another, but only if we, the adults, allow them too.
That’s probably not what you wanted to read, sorry, but please do read on.
Most sibling arguments will be short lived, enemies one minute and best friends the next. When we involve ourselves, we often make the situation worse and encourage it to last much longer. Recently my six-year-old called me ‘nosey’, and when I asked her why she replied ‘you always want to know what’s going on’ and as annoyed as I might have felt she was absolutely right. If every time you and your partner fell out or had a disagreement and the next-door neighbour was asking what happened, we might just describe them in the same way. By involving ourselves in everything that they do we are interfering in their learning opportunities with one another, so try taking a back seat and letting them work it out.
While in the back seat, it’s still important that we are aware of what is going on. We aren’t jumping in to ‘fix it’ but we’re also not going to let it get to a point where someone is going to be hurt. Hitting each other is never OK, no matter the child’s gender. Aggression is not how we express our anger and children need to learn this from an early age. Simply say “It's never OK to hit each other so I am going to stop this now to give you both a chance to calm down”.
If you are in the kitchen when chaos is breaking out in the living room and it gets to a point where you have to intervene, make sure that you go in with an open mind. No matter what your children say or what you think you know happened, you weren’t in the room so you cannot say with certainty what took place. This is tough for parents because, despite our best intentions, we are only human too and are prone to jumping to conclusions. Blaming one child in favour of the other will damage their relationship with each other, so stay as neutral as possible.
Try to remember, sadness and anger are both difficult and overwhelming emotions for children to experience. The child in floods of tears and the child with gritted teeth and clenched fists both need your support. Often, we only comfort the sad child and punish the angry one, but what are we really teaching our children with that response?
When we have helped everyone calm down, now is the time to help them think about how they could work it out. Get them involved in the resolution rather than giving them the answers. Instead of saying “OK, you can have the toy for five minutes and then it's your brothers turn” try saying “I see two children that really want the same toy but there is only one, so what could we do?” You may be surprised with the answers and how capable they are to resolve their own difficulties.
Finally, if you are anything like me, the sound of children arguing might drive you crazy, often meaning that we respond in an unhelpful manner. Looking after your own well-being regularly will improve your ability to tolerate frustration and stay calm. So, remember to look after yourself, your children’s relationship with each other depends on it.
ARTICLE BY Shannon HollywoodShannon Hollywood is a behaviour consultant and qualified social worker who has been working with Action for Children for over ten years. In this role, she helps children, young people and their parents with life's everyday challenges. During this time, she has helped families through many difficulties including parental separation/divorce, youth homelessness, risk taking and challenging behaviour, bullying, grief and mental health issues, to name but a few.