Letting kids fight their own battles may teach them useful skills. But ensuring arguments don’t harm your child or others involved is crucial.
Parenting comes with a lot of ups and downs. It’s natural to want to make the best decisions for your child, but how do you know what’s right?
Arguing with peers and siblings is a natural part of childhood development. If your children can work through issues on their own, they may learn valuable social skills and how to better resolve conflicts with others.
But if you never intervene, your children may not build the skills they need to work through conflict, which may make them feel overwhelmed.
Whether or not to intervene when children are fighting depends on the situation.
Many fights between siblings are mild and non-physical. These situations can be good learning experiences for your children, teaching them how to solve problems and resolve conflicts with siblings and peers more effectively.
On the other hand, it may be best to intervene if children get aggressive or bully each other. There’s also a chance of physical fights that can harm those involved.
When to consider intervening
When children are fighting, consider intervening if:
- arguing or fighting becomes physical
- the argument becomes emotionally abusive
- bullying is present
- teasing is involved
Additionally, the study suggests that parental intervention style can influence the health of adult sibling relationships later in life.
It may be helpful to teach children some appropriate social skills for conflict resolution and modeling.
Research from 2015 on sibling conflict and aggression suggested these approaches when intervening:
1. Set ground rules
Children can sometimes push the limits because they aren’t sure what is and isn’t OK. They may want to test what happens as a result of their actions.
Establishing clear and simple rules can help them understand what’s acceptable to say or do to siblings or peers.
For example, you can set the expectation that name-calling isn’t allowed by articulating the ground rule: “We don’t call our siblings names in this house.”
2. Allow space to express emotions
When arguments or conflicts occur, children can become emotionally dysregulated. Giving them space to cool off and process their emotions may help resolve conflict.
Talking with children about emotions and providing them with emotion regulation skills can teach them how to deal with feeling overwhelmed.
3. Model negotiation skills
Teach children how to negotiate. For example, if they’re arguing with their sibling, you can talk with them about how to compromise.
Solving a problem for them or siding with one child over another can escalate the situation further. So, if possible, try to encourage your children to find a solution to their problems between themselves.
4. Don’t overregulate
If children are on the right track, try not to overstep.
Research from 2021 suggests that too much parental involvement can be counterproductive.
The study observed kindergarteners cleaning up, playing, learning a new game, and discussing a problem. It found that children had trouble regulating emotions if parents stepped in to offer suggestions or corrections.
It may be tempting to jump in and solve every problem your kids have. But if they aren’t hurting themselves or anyone else, it can sometimes be best to let them try to solve their problems independently.
When children are on the right track but experience interference from overinvolved parents, their emotional regulation skills may be affected.
Instead, letting children practice and learn conflict resolution skills on their own may benefit them later in life.
Modeling healthy communication and negotiation can teach your children new coping methods when things aren’t going their way. You may also talk with them about emotions to develop their emotional regulation skills.