Bickering children have been known to fray their parents’ nerves. Oftentimes, parents are not sure how to deal with fights and, in an effort to simply make them stop, don’t always make the most thoughtful decisions. For example, well-meaning parents may jump into their children’s arguments as referees or judges, trying to determine “who started it” or “which toy belongs to whom.” Excluding violent or dangerous conflicts, parenting experts suggest a different approach.
For example, the ‘Love and Logic’ method described by Cline and Faye (2006) suggests that parents “just go brain dead” during conflicts. What they mean is that parents should not argue; but remain calm, show empathy, and express their love for their children. They suggest that parents might say: “I love you too much to argue.” This does not mean giving-in; as ‘Love and Logic’ parenting is not permissive. Parent still need to make children accountable for behavior by understanding the consequences. But when these messages are communicated in a loving way, children are less likely to regard their parents as the enemy.
Similarly, noted positive parenting and sibling rivalry expert, Amy McCready (2019), suggests that parents stay out of squabbles about who is right, unless absolutely necessary. In doing so, parents are not reinforcing the disagreements; but rather, are enabling children to work out solutions together (in cartoon : “Let’s play with the yoga balls, and then find a solution together”). Parents are often surprised how often children can work out solutions together, without parents telling them what to do. McCready also suggests that parents put all children “in the same boat.” In other words, rather than trying to negotiate “who did what,” if all children involved in the conflict receive the same consequence, they learn that they each will benefit from getting along in the future (e.g., “If you both cannot play together with the toy, you will need to find something else to do”). When parental intervention is needed, it should be done calmly and without taking sides.
Distracting children with another fun activity or toy (in cartoon: the yoga balls or the volcano) is often helpful with younger children, as is modeling deep-breathing exercises that help calm the chaos. A cooling-off period is actually advantageous for both children and parents, who sometimes need to take a few breaths too! When both children and parents are more relaxed, they are better able to reduce frustration and determine positive solutions and fun alternatives.
Key take-aways to suggest fun alternatives to avoid fights:
1) Calmly interrupt the conflict (in cartoon: “Max, Klara, let me show you something very cool”), for example by using calming toys that are exclusively used when a child needs to calm down. Distracting children with another fun activity is often helpful, as is modeling deep-breathing exercises that help calm the chaos (in cartoon: “Look at these yoga balls”).
2) Do not take sides. If children can’t work out a solution, put all children “in the same boat”: if all children involved in the conflict get the same consequence, they learn that they will benefit from getting along in the future.
3) Do not argue. Parents should remain calm and show empathy.
4) Enable children to work out solutions together (in cartoon: “We’re going to relax, and then find a solution”). If they are old enough, you can even ask them to come up with a solution. You might be surprised how often children are able to find a solution you had not considered.
5) Find fun alternatives to help children step away from the conflict to focus on a more positive activity.