“He hit me!!!” “She took my marker!”
Have you ever thought – “I am just refereeing 24/7, and I certainly have better things to do with my day. This is just not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”
Unfortunately, the more we have an expectation that our children should not fight, the harder it is to deal wisely with the challenge of conflict.
The reality is that kids fight all the time! University of Illinois professor and family researcher Laurie Kramer, PhD, has found that siblings between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict an average of 3.5 times an hour. The youngest kids (those in the 2-to-4 age group) are the most conflict prone at 6.3 conflicts per hour–or more than one clash every 10 minutes.*
Our kids aren’t going to stop fighting. In fact, we can expect that they will have many conflicts. What if we stopped viewing conflict as an unnecessary and irritating interruption, and started seeing it (and conflict resolution training) as an integral part of family life?
Sibling conflict can be discouraging as parents wonder, “Will these kids ever learn to get along? Will they ever be close?” Jim and I wondered that. Our online course, Sibling Conflict: From Bickering to Bonding, is packed with the insights and practical tools we learned. We guided our kids from hurtful, even aggressive conflicts, to the joy, connection and heartfelt reconciliation that has equipped them to thrive in all their important relationships.
Carrie, a single mom of triplets shared her story of implementing what she has learned in the course:
I watched the segment in your sibling online course about how to guide kids to repair broken relationships. I thought about the valuable opportunity to empower kids for true reconciliation. After bathtime, conflict inevitably erupted among my 5-year-old triplets over who was going to dry off with which towel.
Before the course, I would have quickly decreed who got which towel and commanded an apology: “Sorry.” “I forgive you.” No one would have meant it, of course, and by the time we had all said our well-rehearsed scripts, we would be scowling at each other.
“He hit me!!!” “She took my marker!”
Have you ever thought – “I am just refereeing 24-7, and I certainly have better things to do with my day. This is just not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”
The problem is that the more we have an expectation that our children should not fight, the harder it is to deal wisely with the challenge of conflict.
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Siblings have conflict, and even if we don’t want our kids to fight, it happens. Even a little pushing and shoving can be normal. The fighting itself is not necessarily the problem. It’s what kids learn about conflict and resolution over time that’s important.
This blog addresses physical fighting between siblings, but the principles apply to verbal fights or peer relationships as well.
How Fights are Reinforced…or Resolved
If kids get a stern scolding, angry tones, harsh consequences, and nothing else from parents when they physically fight, then fighting is reinforced. This is because the combative mood is continued and modeled by the parents. In the kids’ minds, scolding is nothing more than a grown up form of intimidation and power. Children learn by the adult’s example that to win at fights is to win at life.
However, if fighting children are constructively managed, they will learn to work through conflict better. They’ll learn that resolving conflict well is a win for both parties. So here are some quick ideas for constructive conflict intervention when kids fight.
“My older child constantly mistreats my younger child for no apparent reason! All my efforts to make it stop seem to fail.
What can I do?”
We are asked some variation of this question at almost every workshop we do. The way siblings interact is a powerful training grounds for future relationships. So we have made available a chapter about sibling relationships from our book How to Grow a Connected Family — as a free download.
Click here to see the chapter.