One of the things I dislike most about parenting is watching my kids fight. And because I dislike it so much, I tend to jump in before it’s gone on too long and try to stop it, just so I don’t have to hear it.
My husband always tells me to “let the kids work it out,” and I think a lot of the time he’s right, but there are times when parents should step in and referee in their kids’s fights.
When are those times?
When the fight turns physical
Kids like to wrestle and get physical and when that is all done in fun and without any malicious intent, it’s okay. But when conflicts turn physical, then it’s time to step in and separate.
When the words turn hateful
Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had it all wrong. Words do hurt and kids can say some pretty harsh things to each other. You wouldn’t stand by and watch them throw rocks at each other, would you? When they start flinging degrading and hateful words at each other, the ref needs to stop the fight.
When a stand-off negatively affects the rest of the family
When a sibling fight brings down the whole family–when it ruins a vacation or a family outing or when family members carry the burden of the conflict outside the home and it affects how they treat others–it’s time for a parent to step in and practice some conflict resolution. That tactic may be as simple as separating or it may require you to ask questions and coach them to a peace-fire.
Recently my husband had to step into a sibling conflict in our family. Even though our kids are older, they still fight! We rarely step in anymore, because for the most part they resolve things themselves. But in this instance, he felt it was time for him to confront one of our kids about the situation because if it had been left to fester, it could have really hurt our family.
When it is clear that they need help with resolution
Sometimes there will be sibling clashes that go on and on and on, for hours, or days even. When it becomes pretty obvious–and when you’ve reached the point when it just gets plain ridiculous and you can’t take it anymore–that they need help figuring out how to resolve the conflict, then it’s your job to help them figure it out. I’m not saying that you should tell them exactly what to do, rather I’m suggesting that you sit them down, listen to their problem, ask questions, and work towards helping them figure out their own answer to the problem.
You see, the thing about kids and fighting is this: yes, they need to learn how to resolve conflicts, but they are still kids who do not yet know all the skills of conflict management. There are times when they simply can’t maneuver through the disagreement on their own and come to a healthy resolution.
So your job is to give them the space to learn to fight and give them the tools to resolve conflicts.