How Expecting Your Kids to Fight Can be a Good Thing

Kids arguing is good

“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 not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”

Unfortunately, the more we have an expectation that our children shouldn’t fight, the harder it is to be prepared for the challenge of conflict.

The reality is that kids fight all the time! University of Illinois professor and family researcher Laurie Kramer, Ph.D., 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 conflict (and training kids to resolve it) as an integral part of family life?

Children have neither the life experience nor the cognitive abilities to resolve disputes well. They are not bad kids, and we are not bad parents 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.

How would things be different in your family if you viewed conflict as the perfect opportunity to build essential relational skills for your kids’ future?

  • Unlike friends who squabble, siblings can’t retreat to separate houses when they fight. You are shaping your child’s future relationships by helping him or her gain important skills to solve and negotiate conflicts. What a great gift to them (and your future son or daughter-in-law!).
  • 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. Learning to solve conflicts can prepare kids to be effective team members at work or church. When siblings make peace after a brawl by gently 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, more so 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?

*The New Science of Siblings

Join us for a five-session online course designed with busy parents in mind. In our course Sibling Conflict: From Bickering to Bonding we teach parents how to teach their kids The Peace Process. Could you use a little peace in your home? Join us today!

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Jim and Lynne Jackson
Jim and Lynne Jackson
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