Your children watch how you handle fights and follow your example.

Teaching Children Fair Fighting Rules

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Once again, your little one yells down the hall, “Mom, he’s hitting me!” While you wish there would never be another kid fight in your home, you're also a realist. Accept the inevitable and apply some ground rules now for your little one by setting boundaries and guidelines. As your child gets older, he will have many opportunities to put your fair fighting rules into practice -- even when he fights with you.

1. Setting Limits

Your child should know what behaviors are acceptable, such as treating the other person with respect, keeping volumes down and offering an apology if you hurt someone’s feeling. Unacceptable behaviors such as name calling, physical fighting and throwing things should also be clear no-nos to your little one. Model these behaviors for your child, responding with a calm attitude and careful consideration for what your child sees when you disagree with someone. If your behavior steps over the boundaries, your child will likely follow, cautions Matt Townsend, a national speaker and relationship expert.

2. Conflict Looms

Two people can disagree without fighting. Your little one needs to know that there are things she can do to avoid fighting, such as giving the other person what he wants, offering a compromise, walking away or getting the other person to see your side so he gives in. Help your little one role play scenarios that teach her how to discover what the other person wants, determine what she wants and work to find a win-win solution. For example, if her sibling wants her toy, she can find out why the sibling wants the toy, decide if she can let the sibling borrow the toy, offer the sibling a different toy or finding a different activity they can do together. These choices are often too complex for toddlers, but preschoolers can accomplish them with some success.

3. Choosing Actions

If your little one finds that a fight cannot be avoided, he can choose when the fight occurs by walking away or calling a time out if emotions are too hot, says Will Cunningham, a marriage and family counselor and author of “How to Enjoy a Family Fight.” Instruct your child to listen to the other person so he knows what that person wants. Have him practice stating in appropriate ways what he wants and how he feels. “I’m angry that you tried to take my toy” or “I got angry when you said I was stupid" are acceptable examples. If he can stay focused on the problem, the fight remains about one issue and is easier to handle.

4. Referee Assistance

There could be some issues too complex or intense for your preschooler. For example, if an older child or adult tries to bully her, someone tries to hurt her or she gets so angry she can’t think, well, that's a problem requiring help. She can ask for help from you, a teacher or other responsible adult. Remind her that you could encourage her to try to settle it again if you think she’s trying to pass the problem off to you when she can settle it. Also let her know that she might not like your solution; finding a solution herself may be more to her liking.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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