When boys fight

At a recent seminar I asked parents to reflect on the attributes that their kids had in common as this would help reveal their parenting focus.

“They all fight… with each other!” said one mum.

This mother had three boys and sibling conflict was the bane of her parenting life.

Sibling fighting goes with the territory when you have more than one child but it always seems more noisy, more boisterous and more physical when boys fight.

So what to do? What to think as a parent? If you see that difficult situations often provide learning opportunities then consider yourself lucky (that maybe a stretch!!) as in all likelihood your boys will provide you with plenty of teaching opportunities.

The following are four big lessons which will help provide some clarity and direction when boys fight.

Boys are competitive by nature

But first understand that boys tend to be more competitive by nature, and that drives a great deal of their fighting . On average a boy’s amygdale, the part of the brain that houses competitiveness, is 16% bigger in boys than girls. So there is a biological link to their competitiveness. A great deal of sibling fighting between boys involves one-up-man-ship, whether it’s a boy not letting his younger brother win, not sit in a favorite chair, or beat him to the dinner table.

Male lion cubs will continually wrestle with each other for dominance so they can develop the hunting skills they need to survive. A similar thing happens with young males. The competitiveness that brothers show will often help their skill development particularly in sport (imagine the competition between the Waugh brothers as young children playing backyard cricket!) but also in how they take their place in the world.

The competitive nature of boys and their conflict is behind the constancy and repetitiveness of brothers’ fighting. Many boys just won’t give in! It’s exasperating, but to compete means you either don’t give in; or you give in for now and come back harder later on. Conflict between bothers can seem like a constant (noisy, fierce, physical) dance where one hits/trips/races/insults another and the other responds, and so on. And when you have three or more boys involved you get alliances and divided loyalties, which is a whole other story.

There are a number of things that boys need to learn at the point of fighting which will help them resolve conflict in civil or socially-acceptable ways. Mostly boys when left to their own will use high power conflict resolution skills, which is what the quest for dominance is all about. (Think Donald Trump and you’ll get a grasp of what high conflict resolution skills look like. You only win if someone else loses!) I’d like to think that we raise boys that possess a variety of skills that they can use to sort out conflict in adulthood including at work, in their personal relationships and with their friends. Here are four lessons that all boys can learn when they fight.

Skill #1: Show some consideration

The socialisation of boys (our basic job as parent), means that boys need to be made aware that their behaviour impacts on others including parents. Noisy boys’ fights disturb the peace – yours and the peace of anyone else who doesn’t want to be involved. That means that boys need to show some restraint when they have a disagreement with someone else. “Consider the circumstances.” “Respond appropriately.” ” Consider others. Is that that the right way to act?”

Skill # 2: Show some restraint

One of the hardest lessons we all need to learn is to restrain from doing what we feel like doing. Most of us as parents have felt like being ‘very physical’ with our kids at some point, but emotional restraint, which is learned early in life stops most of us from actioning our feelings. Over time the socialisation process has taught us to walk away; use words not brute force; distract ourselves, among other strategies, when we’ve felt like losing control when we disagree with others. Boys need to be reminded often that they need to show some restraint, particularly when they are in highly aroused situations such as when they are at the point of fighting.

Skills # 3: Use your words

Boys are wired more for physical reaction rather than verbal reaction when they in a conflict or stress situation. The socialisation of boys means that over time they learn to ask for what they want; tell someone that they are not happy with the way they are being treated; and even talk a problem through (which is a high level, low power skill). Bronwyn, a member of the Parenting Ideas team, recalls how her mum would often repeat the phrase, “Use your words” when children fought with each other. It’s a great line to use! Boys need to be reminded/taught/coached/modelled to talk rather than react when they have a problem with someone else or are in a conflict situation.

Skill #4: Leave something on the table

Smart business negotiators don’t try to bleed an adversary dry. They know that if they are to do business again the person on the other side of the table needs to feel like they have won too. That means they compromise on price; give more service and give way some times. Similarly, many boys need to learn that there are times when they give way to a brother; let a sibling win a game; and that they should always leave some food on the table for a sibling rather than eat it all themselves. That’s how give and take in relationships should work.

Not all conflictual situations involving siblings require a parenting lesson. Sometimes “Beat it” (move to another room and let them argue); “Bear it” (put up with conflict if you can); “Boot them out” (outside they go when they fight and argue) is sufficient particularly when boys are equal partners in the sibling fighting dance. But there are times when you see fighting as a teaching opportunity. Circumstances; timing and your own well-being all play a part in how you respond when boys fight.

For a more thorough understanding of how to help boys when they fight and literally over 100 boy-friendly strategies check out my Parenting Boys online course. It will be great for you to reference throughout your son’s journey to adulthood!