At some point, every parent is going to come across this problem. Even if you only have one child, they are going to have a conflict with another child. And if you have two or more children, it may be a daily issue.
Some parents have asked me, “What do I do about fighting?” Every situation is unique but conflict is inevitable and once we realize that and teach children how to resolve problems rather than try to eliminate all conflicts, we will all be better off.
At a very young age (starting at 12-18 months), children can start to do simple problem solving. The most common reason for fighting is that both children want the same item. Many parents will approach the situation by saying, “Stop fighting and share!” This approach, however, does nothing to solve the problem or to teach children how to manage the conflict.
So the ideal response is to teach the children how to resolve it on their own.
First, mention the problem: “What is the problem? You both want the blue truck.”
Second, give the children the language to advocate for themselves: “Tell your sibling that you are using it right now.” (This can be done with sign language for really little ones which is a hand patting the heart which means “Mine” or “My turn”).
Third, give them the language to problem-solve: “What are some solutions? You can ask for a turn when they are done” (again the child can pat their heart or say “My turn” depending on the developmental level).
Once the parameters are set on who’s turn it is now and who will get a turn soon, then you can guide the conversation in what ever direction works for that situation. It may be, “What do you want to do while you wait for your turn?” Or it may be finding a timer so that the turn taking is more concrete.
If the children are older and can help create solutions for the problem, then you can enlist them in finding one or two solutions each. At the beginning, they will need coaching such as “One solution might be to have one sibling have a turn and then the other sibling have a turn. Another solution might be to have Mom remove the toy from play.”
So your job at the beginning is to mediate the conflict resolution so that in a couple months (years) or so, they can do it on their own.
The second most common type of fighting is physical wrestling, pushing, hitting, etc. Again, the most common response is for the parent to step in and end the altercation but if there isn’t an immediate danger, then it is more important to teach the children how to manage the conflict.
Oftentimes, children like to play rough and you don’t want to step in. You can monitor from the side to make sure no one gets hurt and then remind them that if one child says “stop!” or “no!” then that is the time to stop. Remind the child who is probably whining or fussing that it is up to them to say “stop” or “no” and as soon as that word is said, it needs to be honored.
So if the other child doesn’t stop, then they are not being safe and they are not listening which means that they need to be immediately removed from play whether in the shape of a time-out, or whatever works for your family.
Again, both of these scenarios take much longer than a quick, “No more fighting” but they give children more tools for dealing with conflict once an adult isn’t around.