Wednesday, October 10, 2012

To Fight or Not to Fight?

Should we let our children fight?  This morning Baby Girl had a little friend over.  I listened to them play school together in another room.  I heard their "play" become a bit heated as they disagreed over where each other should set their stuffed animal.

"Kitty will sit here,"  Baby Girl said.

"No, I want her to sit by Tiger," replied her friend.

Baby Girl demanded, "But she wants to sit here."

And on and on it went about this one little issue.  Each girl plead their case for what they wanted. They are 5 year olds, so deep down inside they know that tantrums are for babies, but at the same time I could tell the feelings were coming close to the surface as their voices became shaky and tense.  

As I listened I wondered if I should intervene or not.  Should I let them fight or not?  Is fighting good for children?

I decided to stay out this time.  I continued to listen.  Finally, I heard this:

"I know! Maybe Kitty can sit there for now and then sit by Tiger later!"

Phew! They ended up solving it on their own.  I was lucky this time.  

But later that afternoon all 3 of my children were playing in our backyard with neighborhood friends.  They had made up a game with rackets and bouncy balls.  There were teams (pretty unequal ones) and bigger kids were making up rules and bossing the little kids.  It seemed to be going okay, at first.  Then I heard yelling, screaming (and not the fun, happy kind), and eventually lots of crying.  Again I wondered what I should do.  Should I let them fight or not?  Is fighting good for children?  

This time I intervened.  I went outside and stopped the game and the arguing.  I sent the neighbor kids home, mostly because it was almost dinner time, but also because I wanted to eliminate part of the problem.  Then my children and I talked briefly about what happened.  Little Son was mad.  Sweet Tween was defensive.  Baby Girl tried played innocent.  It ended up with me just lecturing about playing fair.  So I decided to change the subject by having dinner and moving onto something else.  Maybe we were all just too hungry to solve any problems.

We didn't really resolve it.  No one said sorry.  But we all calmed down.  And I noticed after dinner my kids were all friends again and thinking of new things to do together for the rest of the evening.  So I'm not totally sure if that was the right thing or not.  But for now it worked.

So I'm no expert on parenting.  Just a mom with experience in raising my own kidlets.  But this really got me thinking about fighting and what I have learned:

1. Kids are going to fight.  No matter how much we teach them to be nice.  It's human nature to disagree.  I spend a lot of effort teaching my kidlets to be considerate of others and to be peacemakers and such.  But they still fight sometimes.  It helps if I acknowledge that fighting of some kind will happen most days, that way I can continue to work on strategies for problems solving.

2.  Kids should be taught how to resolve disagreements.  I'm not perfect at teaching this, but I think it helps to actively teach them how to say sorry, how to use words to work it out, how to compromise.  I often tell my kids to "take turns with your ideas."  They usually have trouble with conflicting ideas in a game, so I tell them that each person's ideas are valid and gets to have at least part of their idea in the game.  Also, sometimes I'll help them with what words to say as they work it out.  I'll demonstrate how to ask nicely, or how to share, or how to say how you feel and then ask them to try it.  It's good practice for me too!

3. Sometimes they can work it out on their own.  Just like with the little girls arguing over their school game, often kids need to be able to express their opinions and feelings in an argument.  So I guess that is one way fighting can be good.  But I think if they are taught correct principles of kindness, respect, and forgiveness then they often are able to work it out on their own.  It's good people skills for later in life. I try to only intervene if it gets too heated and someone may get really hurt (emotionally or physically). 

4.  Make sure all their needs are met.  If their is a lot of fighting going on in our home at certain times, I try to look at all of their needs.  Are they hungry?  Are they bored?  Are they tired?  Do they need attention?  I've learned that kids seem less likely to fight a lot if their other basic needs of food, sleep, interaction, and love are met.  I try to have educational games or projects on hand just for these times.  I also have been known to put kids to work when they are bored and fighting.  It gets them doing something productive and changes the subject.  If their basic needs seem to be met and their is still conflict . . . then I dig deeper to find a root cause.

So now I want to know what you think?  To fight or not to fight?     

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