Every kid gets into fights
Small children are balls of emotion; they go from extreme happiness and delight to complete apocalyptic meltdown in less than two seconds. I am amazed by their range of emotion and I think anyone under the age of 5 could simultaneously win an Oscar for best actor in a drama and comedy. I have three little girls, a 4 year old and twin 2 year olds. When my toddlers get into a fight, I’m not interested in figuring out “who started it” so I can place blame and punishment. I don’t think making someone feel bad helps the situation. Instead, I flip the conversation to how we can help the sister who is crying and this turns into a problem-solving session.
My Real Life Example of How I Flipped the Conversation
The other night, my daughters were fighting over a blanket. Little sister wanted big sister’s blanket and I walked in on a literal tug-o-war. I knew the blanket belonged to big sister, but this didn’t matter because they were both crying and very passionate about who would hold it. I had an image of playing King Solomon and proposing I cut the blanket in half, but instead I calmly said to big sister:
“It looks like your sister really wants this blanket, but it’s your blanket. She’s really upset, what do you think we could do to help her feel better?”
Big sister thought for a moment, then suggested she give her little sister a different blanket from her room. Big sis knows pretty much anything from her room is a big winner with her little sisters. This suggestion got little sister’s attention, and then big sis handed over her prized Disney Frozen blanket.
“Here, you can have my Anna & Elsa blanket.” Little sis was elated!
All tears were dried. Little sis said thank you, big sis said:
“You’re welcome. I thought you would really like my Anna & Elsa blanket, you can keep it.”
I was stunned into shock because I never thought big sis would part with her favorite blanket for the past year, but she just willingly handed it over. It was her idea. I didn’t force anything to get to this happy ending.
3 Ways I intervene when my kids are fighting
1. Ask my them to problem solve. I approach the daughter who seems to be a less upset and ask, “What do you think we could do to help your sister feel better? She’s really upset.”
2. Suggest bartering with a new toy. If one kid is playing with something they want, I suggest finding and offering a different toy as a trade. “Why don’t you find a toy you think they would like to play with and see if they’ll make a trade?”
3. Take turns. After a few suggested trades are rebuffed, it’s clear no other toy will do. So then we must wait our turn. I simply state, “I guess your sister isn’t done playing with it yet. When she’s done, you’ll get your turn. We always take turns. What would you like to play with while you wait? Do you want to read a book?” Redirection always helps pass the time and sometimes they are so involved in their new activity, they forget about the toy they really wanted just moments ago.
Moreover, it’s incredibly heart-warming to see one of my kids think of a way to help calm down another kid, offer a new toy, or eventually hand a coveted toy over once they are done playing with it.
This isn’t about identifying the original perpetrator; it’s about appealing to their innate kindness and desire to help one another (aka the human condition). I have seen little kids express remorse at making another kid cry at one time or another, so we talk about how things could have gone differently (kids are not vindictive little monsters!). This post-mortem conversation provides glimpses of how, once my kids have calmed down, they can be quite thoughtful and reasonable. Their emotions get the better of them in the moment, so I know logic will not come into play when they “Want it RIGHT NOW!” After the dust has settled, we talk about how “using our words” instead of grabbing a toy, hitting, biting or pushing is a better option. They enjoy being kind and generous to one another, I just have to point it out to them.