When Kids Fight

Conflict builds character. Crisis defines it.
—Steven V. Thulon, Senior Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force

Whether your child fights with you, a sibling, or a friend, she will inevitably engage in arguments. How do you teach your child to resolve conflicts peacefully? Consider these ideas.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Model how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Your kids are always watching you. This not only is about how you act, but also what you say and how you say it.
    • Talk to your kids about why you want them to not hit or harass others and how to work out conflicts peacefully.
    • Know that teaching a child to resolve conflicts peacefully takes a long time. Kids need to practice, and they need to practice often. Keep reminding them what to do when they’re upset and want to fight.
    • Notice when your child makes good choices. If she tries to calm down during a conflict, point out how proud you are that she did that.
    • Teach kids to seek out trusted adults for help if they have trouble resolving conflicts on their own. Adults can be helpful in sorting out differences.
    • Be honest when you lose your temper. All parents do sometimes. It’s good for kids to see that adults aren’t always perfect.
    • If you have more than one child, expect conflicts to erupt between siblings. For tips on how to handle sibling rivalry, visit www.healthychildren.org.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • With young children, follow three simple rules when they get into a fight or conflict: 1. Stop. 2. Calm down. 3. Talk. Visit the PBS page on how to teach young children how to manage conflict at Talking with Kids.
    • Help kids name what they are feeling. Young children often get so upset that they don’t know what they’re feeling, except for “bad.” Give them more descriptive words: “I’m mad.” “I’m sad.” “I’m frustrated. “
    • Intervene right away when young children get into fights. Protect them from getting hurt. As kids become older, slow down your intervention and see how they begin to manage conflict (but be ready to jump in if necessary).
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • When children go to school, they discover other children they like—and others who irritate them. It’s not uncommon for children at this age to get into fights and scuffles. Keep teaching them what to do instead of fighting.
    • Teach kids how to use “I messages” in conflicts. These include stating clearly how they feel, such as, “I am mad that you took my ball.” This helps kids to learn how to express their feelings so they can then figure out what action to take.
    • Be clear on how you want kids to act when they find themselves in conflict with another child. Ask your child’s teacher about schools rules, which often have helpful, age-appropriate tips for peaceful conflict resolution that you can also follow at home.
    • Notice if your kids are getting better at resolving conflicts peacefully. As they get older, they should be getting better at it. If not, seek outside help. A school counselor or school social worker may be helpful.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • As puberty starts to kick in, kids who were typically peaceful may suddenly erupt and easily become agitated, fighting with others. Continue to teach your child how not to fight—and to work things through instead.
    • Physical fighting, bullying, and victimization are more common during the middle-school years than any other in the first two decades of life. Monitor how your child’s school deals with bullying, cyberbullying, and other types of physical fighting and verbal harassment.
    • Don’t be surprised if your child starts arguing a lot with you. This is typical of adolescence as kids begin to separate more from their parents. Even though this can be a rocky time, it’s also a time of growth.
    • Teach kids what to do when they lose their temper.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • By this age, teenagers should be more adept at resolving conflicts well. If your teenager still struggles, seek professional help. You want your teenager to have this skill developed before leaving home.
    • Watch how your teenager acts under stress and competition. Teach teenagers how to deal with pressures, both internal and external.
  • Continue to talk about the nuances of peaceful conflict resolution. When diplomats from different countries talk about conflicts, they have to be extremely skilled in the art of diplomacy and action. Talk about the conflicts that are happening in the news and which ones are being worked through in positive ways for all sides.

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