“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?
Children have neither the life experience nor the cognitive abilities to resolve conflict well. They are not bad kids, and I am not a bad parent if they fight! We are all “beloved messes” – works in progress. It’s helpful to adjust our expectations to fit our kids’ abilities and embrace the fact that conflict is quite normal.
Here are a few reasons to view conflict as the best way to build essential skills for your kids’ future:
- Unlike friends who squabble, siblings can’t retreat to a separate house when they fight. You are shaping your kids’ future marriages and parenting skills by helping them gain skills to solve and negotiate conflicts in their intimate, lasting relationships. What a great gift to them!
- You are also equipping them for success at school. Research shows that “kids who practiced the best conflict-resolution skills at home carried those abilities into the classroom.”*
- Adult life is all about peer relationships. Prepare kids to be effective team members at work or church. When siblings make peace after a brawl by tossing a pillow as they go to bed, they are learning the skills to playfully tease a cranky co-worker, or thaw the ice in a tense church committee meeting with a light-hearted joke.
- An added benefit that we’ve seen in our work with families: Siblings who battle more as children tend to be closer as adults than siblings who avoid each other. They may even find themselves affectionately reminiscing about their crazy arguments as kids.
With this in mind, stop legislating solutions to the conflict, which trains children to be dependent on you. Facilitate their learning, so that you eventually work yourself out of your referee job!
The question is not whether your kids will have conflict (they will).
The question is, what are you going to teach your kids about how to handle it?
Take 15 minutes to learn how to give consequences that teach, rather than simply punish, by downloading our free ebook Consequences That Actually Work.