The other night my husband and I overheard two of our daughters arguing.
My 7 year old said: Evette, why didn’t you want to play with me?Evette (age 4) replied: I didn’t want to play with you because you kept pushing me, and I didn’t like that.
7yo: I’m sorry I pushed you. I was just playing.
4yo: It’s okay.
My husband turned to me with an expression of bemusement on his face and said, “Did they just work that out by themselves?” We were shocked.
This situation with my girls does not happen very often. Usually there is crying, screaming, and door slamming, but they are learning how to fight more effectively.
Before I was a parent, I had visions of my sweet children always helping each other, always playing together, and never fighting. There was never going to be contention in my home. I was very judgy of other families. Those who had contention in their homes with their children were not parenting “right“. There was not enough hugging, praising, teaching, family nights, scripture study, etc. going on in those homes and that’s why those children fought. I never stopped to consider that parents as amazing as Adam and Eve had children who fought.
Soon after I had children of my own, I was hit with a hard dose of reality. I was stunned to learn that children have their own opinions and personalities and yes they DO fight. Who knew?!
Now I know better. Fighting is normal among siblings, and in my opinion, it is healthy too. Fighting with siblings is a safe training ground for future relationships. Fighting with siblings is also a safe environment in which kids can test boundaries and express individuality. However, it is only a safe environment if you teach them HOW to fight.
My husband and I are believers in encouraging our children to work things out on their own and this includes the arguments they have. We have tried hard to foster a safe environment for them to express their differences and teach them how to “fight” effectively and kindly:
1. No name calling. I really do not like my children to call each other names that are hurtful. That is absolutely not allowed in our home and especially during disagreements.
2.No manipulation/ultimatums. Sometimes children don’t know how to express their needs so they turn to manipulation/ultimatums. For example, when my oldest daughter becomes frustrated that her sisters don’t do what she wants them to do she responds with, “okay, I don’t want to play with you anymore.” This is an effective tactic (for her) because her younger sisters really want her to play, so they usually comply with her demands. However, this is a very selfish tactic because the other sisters are forced to abandon their desires. We have tried to teach our girls how to compromise. To help them do this, I’ll sometimes role play with them and help them come up with ideas to negotiate their needs.
3. Eliminate the words “always, never, and not fair”. Every parent has undoubtedly heard these words from their children before. “You NEVER do what I want to do.” “You ALWAYS get to be the princess, that’s NOT FAIR.” Sometimes when my children are really upset, they tend to exaggerate. Teach them to focus on the current situation, and not bring up past perceived inequalities.
4. Use feeling words. After a big fight, I’ll sit my girls down in front of each other, have them look each other in the eye, and express how they feel. I try to teach them to do this without attacking. For example, “You made me mad,” is not as useful as, “I felt angry when you didn’t want to play with me.” Feelings can be expressed without the other person feeling attacked. If the other person feels attacked, they fight of flight and then nothing is accomplished.
5. No hitting. This one should go without saying.
6. Apologizing. I read an amazing blog post on how to help children apologize with more sincerity. Apologies are meaningless if they are not genuine. Teach your child how to apologize and how to recognize that their actions may have caused another person pain.
7. Teach them the difference between tattling and reporting. Sometimes my girls want attention in any form including getting their sibling in trouble. We’ve tried to teach them that tattling is used for the intent of getting a person in trouble while reporting is used to get somebody out of trouble. However, this distinction is difficult for children to grasp, so when I know they have come to tattle, my usual response is, “go work it out with your sister.”
8. Keep perspective. I often tell my girls that being right is not as important as your relationship with your sisters, and that sisters are more important than being upset over a THING.
9. (Here is one for the adults) Don’t make the fight about you. Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask myself, “is what my child doing bugging their sibling or is it bugging ME?” For example, one of my daughters was wrestling with another daughter and I was about to intervene when the thought came to me, “your girls are having fun, they are both laughing. This isn’t fighting.” In that situation, I had made their playing about ME. I was about to stop their playful, fun behavior because I was bugged and annoyed.
10. Bonus adult tip. Don’t be too quick to jump in and intervene in their fights. I know we don’t want contention in our homes, so naturally our first inclination is to intervene in any argument, but we need to occasionally step back and quietly observe. How are children going to learn to fight the fire themselves if we’re always there to smother the flames? Encourage your children to work out their arguments and they may surprise you.
Children are going to fight no matter what you do. Teaching them how to fight is very important for their future relationships.Teach them it’s okay to disagree and it’s okay to express their desires, and teach them to do it productively and with kindness.