When physical fighting among kids gets – quite literally – out-of-hand, it’s time for parents to take action.
Do you know that 70 percent of all families have children who physically fight? If your family is one of them, take heart, you are not alone. The good news is, physical fighting can be eliminated or strongly alleviated if you are willing to make important changes.
Too often parents unwittingly reinforce what they hope to avoid through actions, words, or, in many cases, inaction. But every day is an opportunity for change, and the most important changes start with ourselves.
12 STEPS TO STOP THE FIGHTING IN YOUR HOME
1. Have a family meeting to begin addressing the problem together.
Start by appealing to your childrens’ hearts and spirits. Let them know how much you love them and how important it is for all of you to have a peaceful home. Ask your children what that would feel like. Affirm their children’s goodness and tell them that when physical fights occur, the peace in your home is shattered. Let them know how hard it is to watch the people you love most hurt each other.
Next, have each child explain what might make him fight. When my older son Michael was 10 he said that I always treated his younger brother like he was my special little baby. The “baby,” 7-year-old Tim, said that Michael was always bossing him around and putting him down. I empathized with both of my sons and asked them to try to understand each other’s point of view. We talked about what they could do to prevent fights, and alternatives they could choose when they felt anger building up.
2. During and after your family meeting listen to your childrens’ needs.
Hear them out. Find out what causes them to fight – jealousy, frustration, misplaced anger, feeling left out, boredom, habit? Listen with an open heart and try to understand. Then, if there is something you need to change in your own behavior, do it.
In my case, I needed to understand that even though Michael was the oldest, he was still a child who wanted to feel like my little baby sometimes, too. And for Tim, I needed to see that there were times I was too protective of him because he was the youngest. I had to accept that my behavior, in part, fueled their conflicts.
3. Validate the feelings each child expresses through reflective listening.
Even if you disagree with what your child expresses remember that he has a right to feel what he feels. By empathizing, we relieve some of the pressure that leads to fights, and we show our children that we really DO want to understand how they feel.
4. Let your children know that you love each one uniquely.
Many fights stem from jealousy. As parents we love each child in their own special way, and it is very important that we convey this, not just assume that children know it.
5. Trust your role as the parent.
Set the expectation for a fight-free home, and stick with it. You are the most powerful role model your children have, and it is very important that you honor your own standards and limits. Make it clear that hurting each other is absolutely not acceptable under any circumstances, and that you expect your children to honor this.
6. Catch your children in the act of avoiding fights and affirm them for making good choices.
Each time you see your kids cooling off, giving I messages, or compromising, let them know how proud you are. Praise them, and ask how they feel about the good choice they made. This further reinforces good behaviors.
7. Teach empathy.
If one child hurts another, point out the ramifications of the actions by asking the following questions:
- How do you think that made him feel?
- How would you feel if someone did that to you?
- How can you make it better?
Also, tell your child how you felt when you saw the fighting or hurting take place, and use an “I message” to do it. For example:
“When I saw you hit your brother I felt bad and even a little sad. It bothers me a lot to see someone I love being hurt and to know that someone else that I love made that hurt happen.”
8. Spend 15 – 20 minutes a day of uninterrupted time with each child.
You can alternate with your partner, and if you are a single parent, alternate nights per child. When you spend this sacred time with your children, honor it completely by not answering the phone or allowing in any external distractions. If you need to alternate nights and have more than two kids over the age of 5, have them help you by occupying each other when you are with their sibling, reminding them that their time will come, too.
If your children are helping, affirm them for enabling you to give each of them this special time alone with you. Doing this on a regular basis can take the edge off of jealousy by giving each child a strong message that he is very important to you. This alone can help prevent fights.
9. What are you modeling?
If your children are observing a lot of conflict, they may be following suit. Children learn by imitation, and as parents, we need to be mindful of the examples we set. What we do, they will eventually do also.
10. Limit intake of violent TV shows, videos and computer games.
There is a documented link between screen violence and violence in children. The University of Michigan just released the results of a long-term study that clearly documents this. Children who see violent acts on a regular basis are more apt to be physically aggressive. With the preponderance of so much media violence today, we need to be particularly vigilant about what we allow children to watch.
11. If a fight occurs, take immediate action.
Do not try to determine who started it, but let your children know unequivocally that fighting is not an acceptable choice. Give each child a time out in a separate spot. After they have had the chance to cool off, talk to each child individually. Hear each child out, and try to understand motivation for actions while emphasizing that physical fighting is absolutely not allowed.
12. If fighting still continues, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there some underlying need or issue in any of your children that has not been addressed? If so, what might it be?
- Is there a pattern to the fights? Are there be specific circumstances that are setting your children off? If so, what can be done to change this?
- Are you and your partner sticking with the no-fight pledge, or is one of you looking the other way? It is critical that you both are on the same page.
- Are your kids testing to see if you are going to follow through?
If this is the case, give stronger consequences for fighting: take away a special toy, video or computer game, or take away a privilege like TV or staying up late on the weekend. And, if you say you are going to take something away, then make sure you follow through. Otherwise you will reinforce the fighting.
If you have done everything suggested here and your children are still fighting, consider some family counseling. It’s better to address the issue now than wait for it to escalate. Fighting is something that practically all parents of siblings confront at one time or other. With mindfulness and the willingness to make changes, fighting is something that you have the power to change. Good luck! J
Naomi Drew is the author of four books, among them: Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids (Kensington Publishers) and Learning the Skills of Peacemaking (Jalmar Press).
- wash your face
- take slow, deep breaths
- listen to music
- play an instrument
- throw a ball
- take a bath
- write a letter
- go outside and run
- build something
- model with clay
- call a friend
- jump up and down 50 times
- clean your room
- look in your fish tank
- jump on a trampoline
- jump rope
- cut and paste
- clean out a drawer look at the sky
- think of something funny
- dig in the sand
- ride your bike
- go out and play
- hug a stuffed animal
- play with your pet
- do push-ups