Guest blog post by Stephanie Gutzmer, AuD, ABAC, C-IAYT
Siblings fight. And it’s not a bad thing – it’s a natural process. However, as pandemic guidelines continue to recommend that we all stay home where possible, the tense family moments may feel too frequent. You definitely can’t expect children to get along all the time. And you can’t expect your kids to be good at conflict resolution all the time. It may feel impossible when helping your kids fight fair. However, you can use moments of conflict as an opportunity to teach kids how to handle fights better.
6 Rules for Helping Your Kids Fight Fair
Talk with Your Partner to Get on the Same Page
A unified front is essential if you are going to establish new expectations with your children about conflicts. If one parent expects one thing, and the other is doing something else, it sends mixed messages.
All parenting partners should discuss what will be expected from your child(ren) and work together to establish a plan before talking to your kids.
Establish fair fighting expectations
Children are still learning emotion management, so they often will still react out of emotion. They are quick to yell, scream, and maybe hit. So, establishing some clear rules can give them some boundaries and let your child know what is unacceptable. Here are some ideas:
- No hitting or pushing
- No name-calling or criticizing the personality of the other
- Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements and focus on behavior
- Try to express how you are feeling and what need isn’t being met. Be specific
- Don’t use the words “always” or “never”
Separate the Children Before Everyone Comes Together
When emotions are high, it’s hard to come together and talk about what happened. Taking some time to pause and breathe can allow everyone the opportunity to calm down. This sets everyone up for more effective conflict resolution.
Don’t Punish, But Discipline if Needed
When children are screaming at each other in the heat of the moment, you may feel like you have to get just as loud to intervene. Or you might find yourself reacting out of your own anger and frustration. Unfortunately, you’re modeling the very thing you’re trying to have the kids not do! Remember that how you intervene can have lasting consequences.
Related Reading: How Parenting Styles Affect Child Development
- Criticism, blaming, and belittling emotionally hurt your child. Worse, doing so doesn’t allow the opportunity for kids to express feelings, and it only weakens their trust in you. Instead, take time to settle yourself. Then focus on the issue at hand and what need isn’t being met, rather than the child’s character or the quality of the choices made.
- Avoid using physical force like spanking, because it sends mixed messages to your child and, in the short run, can lead to more aggression and defiance. Instead, explain what actions were incorrect and why you will give consequences if they continue.
- Don’t ignore the issue or give the silent treatment. Stonewalling and shutting down only leaves others feeling frustrated, leading to escalated feelings. Communication is essential to working through a problem.
Model Fair Fights with your Spouse
Your kids model your behavior and learn most from you. This is especially true when they are watching you and your parenting partner fight. During an argument, do you yell, storm off, or say vindictive things? Take inventory and evaluate your own arguments with your spouse and others. If you want your children to resolve their conflicts better, it starts with modeling better conflict resolution.
Related Reading: Are You in an Unhappy Marriage?
Also, it’s stressful for children to watch their parents fight. And in households where fighting is continuous, it can impact child development. Children need the reassurance that parents can work through their conflicts. If fighting fair isn’t an active and vital skill in your relationship, consider working with a marriage counselor to learn how to talk through your differences and become a united unit again.
Balance positive experiences with negative ones
Conflicts and fighting are a natural part of life. Children will fight with each other, will fight with you, and you will fight with your partner. Resolving conflicts is inevitable in every relationship – so it’s vital you have good conflict resolution skills and teach them to your children. The goal isn’t to fight but to fight fairly and balance the good and the bad.
Research has shown, for any relationship, five positive interactions for every negative interaction is necessary to sustain long-term relationships – this goes for marriages, friendships, sibling bonds. Encouraging your children to work together and find healthy methods of resolving conflict can maintain this balance.
Helping Your Kids Fight Fair
Emotions are strong during disputes, and your children will most likely be impulsive, lashing out, yelling, or even running away. All of this is normal – they don’t have the emotional maturity of adults yet! Through each stage of childhood, kids have to figure out how to express their needs and wants while working through disagreements if they can’t get their way.
Expecting your children never to fight is unrealistic. And intervening during every fight shouldn’t be the goal either. Guiding your children towards better and better conflict resolution will help them learn how to do it themselves and create stronger bonds between them.
If you’re struggling to establish clear rules that promote communication between your children, consider family therapy. Working with a family counselor can help your family shift family dynamics into healthier functioning. If you are in the Chicago area, reach out to Life Care Wellness at (630) 423-5935 to learn how we can help.