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When to intervene when kids fight

4 August
Posted by:
Michael Grose

Sibling fighting tends to come with the parenting territory. It is born from rivalry or competitiveness between siblings and shows itself through mindless arguments, noisy squabbles, physical means, verbal put-downs and even long silences.


It is always a difficult call to know when to intervene in children’s disputes. Do I ignore the squabble or do I become involved?  Good question. Bear it (if you are a saint you maybe able to ignore it), Beat it (go elsewhere when they fight) and Boot them out (noisy disputes are best settled outside) come from the let-them-work-it-out-themselves school of thought. There is a time and place for this approach. With young children you do need to give them some opportunity to work things out themselves.


But kids have L plates on when it comes to resolving conflict with their siblings. They can learn better ways of resolving conflict than resorting to reflexive means such as hitting, shouting and generally playing the person rather than the “ball”. There are times to intervene when there is a dispute. The key is to get in early before the dispute escalates into World War III.


When you do intervene be more concerned about solving the problem (is it about space, possessions or infringement of personal rights) than trying to work out who started the dispute. Don’t be the umpire or the judge – attempt to be the peacemaker. Bt even peacemakers have to get tough and send both parties to their bunkers (bedrooms) to cool off.


Here are some simple strategies you may use to help young children resolve their own disputes : 

  • Distract them when they hurt someone. If an infant hits a sibling give them a hammer and pegboard saying, “We hit the pegboard, not people.”
  • Redirect them when they hurt someone. If a sibling is watching TV and a child interferes with him or her you can say “John is watching TV at the moment. You can do a drawing while you are waiting for him.”
  •  Explain the consequences when they hurt someone. Sometimes young children learn from experience but adults need to explain or make a connection. You can say “The reason Peter hurt you was that you made him angry by taking his cars.”
  •  Help your child see his or her place in the fight, problem or dispute. Sometimes they are conveniently blind to their own involvement.
  •  Remove your child if he hurts others. Let him or her know that hurting others is inappropriate and place them in a quiet spot to reinforce this. Be firm if children are hurtful to each other.
  •  Give them some simple ideas about how to handle the problem. Simple suggestions such as “Ignore him when he whines.” “Go to your bedroom if your little sister annoys you.”  “ Have you asked your brother to stop taking your toys?”
  •  Recognise their efforts to resolve conflict cooperatively. “That was great to see you share your toy with Alex?”
  •  If in doubt, try timeout. Some time in bedrooms can calm kids down and give everyone some breathing space.

 It is better in the long run to focus on restoring relationships rather than taking a punitive approach when young children fight.

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