A question parents often ask is, “How do I stop the kids fighting?” If you’re a parent, especially with the kids underfoot with loooong school holidays, you know the exasperation of kids fighting. Here’s my advice on How to Stop the Kids Fighting:
“Don’t look at me!”
“You’re always picking on me!”
Like a tiny stone in your shoe, the bickering irks and it’s hard to put your attention anywhere else.
It makes sense that squabbling children can wreck a parent’s head.
“Why can’t they just play nicely!”
When they were tiny you imagined they’d be best friends – but sometimes they seem like worst enemies.
“How to stop the kids fighting?”
It’s a question many parents would love to have answered. But what if we are asking the wrong question?
The thing is – the question we ask determines the direction we take and our destination.
When we focus on stopping the fighting, the conflict doesn’t disappear – it just goes underground and resurfaces in some other way at some other time.
What if a more helpful question is, “How do I help my children to fight well?”
In other words, kids will experience frustration with each other sometimes, but we can guide them to handle conflict in a way that helps them to learn how to speak up for what they need without becoming aggressive.
Teaching our children how to have a “good fight” is probably one of the most important skills we can give them, because we all have to learn to navigate relationships – at home, at work, in recreation and in the world out there.
We all know what unhelpful fighting looks like – it happens in every soapie. Raised voices. Name-calling. Slamming doors. Dramatic exits with no resolution to the problem. Perhaps even violence. Most parents strive not to fight in front of the kids. We know this isn’t what we want for them. But we often haven’t thought about how to help our children to learn the art of fighting well.
What does a “good fight” look like?
A good fight is where we use our anger to express what we need, without resorting to blaming, shaming, belittling or hurting anyone else.
So how to help your children have a “good fight”?
Firstly think about your own role.
In almost every situation with children fighting, parents set themselves up to be the referee:
“Who started it?”
“What did you do?”
We try to rescue the situation. We try to console the victim and to coerce: “Be kind you to your little brother.” We don’t realise it at the time, but we’ve just stepped into the triangle trap.
And when we identify one child as “the victim” we also create a “perpetrator” – without intending to, we cast one of our children in the role of the “baddie”.
And when we look for a perpetrator to blame, it normally ends up in a downward spiral.
Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you try to sort out the problem – it ends up in tears and accusations. You find yourself caught in the middle of the wrangle – and ten minutes later they are friends again and muttering together about you, glancing arrows in your direction.
And all you’d tried to do is help!
Ha – you inadvertently stepped into the triangle trap!
Psychology has a term for these three–way interactions that snare us – triangulation. And the strange thing with these triangles is that they have a life of their own – they rotate positions. The ‘rescuer’ (you!) suddenly find the triangle has shifted and you have now been cast in the role of perpetrator – the kids are seeing you as the “baddie”! Your well-intentioned intervention is seen as interference and threat. The one sibling “rescues” the other – they are buddies again and glare at you!
What to do differently? How to stop triangulation happening?
Don’t enter the triangle by letting yourself take the role of “rescuer” – unless there is a genuine threat of serious harm.
You’re probably thinking,
“But I can’t let them kill each other! What to do differently?”
Here’s the secret many parents don’t know:
Rather than trying to ‘rescue’ the situation, see your role as facilitator – one who makes it easier for the children to learn to use negotiation to achieve what they need.
Ideally, you want to help them find a way forward before the argument becomes so heated they can’t think straight. So when you hear the tone of your children’s voices change – when you sense things are becoming tense, come a little closer, without getting directly into their space, and ask,
“Sounds like you’re getting upset. Do you need help to sort it out?”
Sometimes this question alone, can get them back on track to negotiate what they need.
At other times they will ask for your help, or they will try to figure out what’s needed but end up fighting.
Now you step in, not as rescuer, but as facilitator.
Acting as a Facilitator not a Rescuer
Firstly, if tempers have become volatile, everyone needs time to calm down first of all.
Once you’ve given them space to calm, so that their “thinking brain’ is back on line, now is the time to facilitate.
The skill is in the questions you use.
If you interrogate, “Who did what?” you’ll end up in the triangulation trap.
In the same way, using “Why?” questions in a conflict situation will only lead to your children blaming one another or making excuses.
What’s more helpful is to use, “What?” questions:
- “What are you needing?”
- “What do you want to see happen?”
- “What do you think your brother/sister needs?”
- “What can you do so that you can both be happy?”
- “What can you do to help make this happen?”
Listen to each child’s response before creating your next “What …?” question.
Reflect what you hear being said.
It’s tempting to rush in with your own solutions but the key into developing lasting patterns of having a “good fight” is to facilitate them to find their own solutions. When they decide what will work for them they are far more likely to be emotionally invested in making it happen, and it also builds their competence, which builds their self esteem.
When you use “What” questions you move from rescuer to facilitator. “What?” questions open the door to thinking of helpful ways forward.
It’s a big challenge to help our children learn to fight well but with these techniques I believe you can move forward. You can find more insights on my downloadable audio: “Managing Anger in the Home”.
This is a big topic. Knowing how to fight well is key to happy relationships.
Imagine the unhappiness in life your child could avoid if they know how to fight well!
What is your experience of when the kids are fighting? How have you approached this tricky parenting situation? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.