As an elementary school counselor, I deal with conflict between little ones all day long. The kids fly in from recess, frustrated and breathless, ready to tell their side of the story. After a few minutes of sorting it out, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that this is a harmless misunderstanding or spat. They are best friends again in no time. I’d bet money your children at home deal with much of the same. The speed at which they enter an argument is only rivaled by the speed at which they are playing nicely together again a few minutes later.
Fighting with others doesn’t have to be entirely negative. Conflicts are a normal part of development for all humans. Your little humans at home are no different. Childhood conflict can be uncomfortable. But it can actually be beneficial in the long run to help with communication skills, listening, and sharpening those oh-so-important empathy skills. Disagreeing with others and acknowledging conflict can be a healthy way to grow as a person. It’s also a good way for your children to see that expressing their authentic selves is the way to go.
Of course, fighting with others isn’t pleasant. It is uncomfortable, frustrating, and downright stressful. Factor those feelings into situations with your kids, and well, there’s a quick and easy recipe for disaster. But good news! There are ways to handle these situations right when they happen, so nothing escalates to the point of no return. Once your kids have these strategies down pat, they will be handling their battles like pros (a girl can dream, right? . . .). Here are some ways to equip your little ones with an arsenal of tools so that you can leave your side hustle as a referee behind.
Teaching Kids to Fight Fair
A Bug and a Wish
At my elementary school, I love using the strategy of “a bug and a wish” with my little guys. It’s an easy way to teach my students the importance of listening to the other person while still conveying their authentic perspective. My goal is always to teach children how to advocate for themselves. This cute little trick does it perfectly.
In a conflict, each child will take a turn saying, “It bugs me when you______. I wish you would _______.” As each side hears the “bugs and wishes” from the other offended party, it helps diffuse the situation and de-escalate to the point where we can start working on a solution. We’ve all heard of “I-statements.” This is a cute, child-friendly, easy-to-remember spin on that tried and true strategy to pull out of your parenting toolbox.
Just Own It!
Are there any Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fans out there? If so, then you know the directive from Lisa Rinna to “just own it!” We can teach our kids the same thing about handling conflict and fighting fairly.
When kids own up to their mistakes instead of being quick to point fingers at others, it can shift the scenario from a blame game to a teachable moment. Each party in the situation can recognize their role in the conflict and understand their part in getting to that angry result. Furthermore, helping children sharpen the skill of apologizing for their behavior will be invaluable moving forward.
We all know that familiar quick grumble of “sorry” while looking at the ground that kids can often toss out when an adult pleads with them to apologize to the emotionally wounded recipient of their actions. It’s essential to ensure that kids know what they are apologizing for and that their apology is a thoughtful and sincere message. Honing in on your understanding of how your actions made another person feel is a difficult concept to navigate for young people. But it is truly a critical facet of the development of emotional intelligence. Giving children the tools and the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions is a lifelong skill that will transfer to all aspects of life as they mature and develop.
What I hear you say is . . .
So much of learning to fight fair has to do with active listening. Each party in the scenario needs to actively listen to the other person while they explain their perspective. Too often, listening is on the back burner because everyone involved wants to get their side of the story told. It’s important to remind everyone, and especially kids who may not be able to rationally understand this yet, that they will get a turn to speak and that everyone will be able to be heard.
Kids can practice this difficult skill by repeating back the information that was just presented to them. Simply saying, “What I’m hearing you say is _______,” is a great way to sum up the material, show the speaker that they are being heard, and ensure that nothing got lost in translation. This key communication strategy is critical to ensure that misunderstandings are kept to a minimum and that the situation is presented accurately.
Face those Fears
Having kids face conflict head-on instead of shying away from it can be a critical component of development as well. When young people acknowledge that this can be difficult to sort through, it goes a long way toward their growth and development. It is important to have children express how they feel instead of bottling it up and letting it fester. Kid problems may not feel so serious at the moment. But this skill of expressing feelings without fear of ridicule or judgment will be critical in future professional, romantic, or platonic relationships for decades to come.
As adults, we can use any interaction between children as a teachable moment to work on skills that will transfer to daily life as they mature and develop. Giving kids the tools to fight fair while remaining calm and respectful will be invaluable. Soon enough, you will be able to put down that referee’s whistle and sit back and watch how they handle each situation effortlessly. Simply coming from a place of empathy, non-judgment and kindness will go a long way toward showing others that they are respected and valued. When we respect ourselves enough to fight fair, everyone wins in the end.