When petty bickering turns into a full-force battle, do parents always have to intervene? Not necessarily, says psychologist Arsenio Alianan, Jr., Ph.D. of PyschConsult, Inc. Jumping into every sibling dispute can sometimes keep kids from learning the art of peaceful communication and compromise.
Just like with any other social skill, children need numerous opportunities to practice conflict resolution under the guidance of their parents.
Reasons for Fighting “Kids can fight over anything no matter how seemingly insignificant to us adults,” observes Lala Garcia-Devera, early childhood caregiver and owner of Discovery Day Care in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. Young children can also be quite moody—one minute they’re malambing to one another, the next minute they’re refusing company. It’s their way of learning to be assertive and independent.
Common conflicts among kids ages 2 to 6 years involve sharing of toys, competing for attention, and invasion of space. Dr. Alianan explains the real culprits behind the fighting in the following cases:
“Give me back my toy!” Toddlers are learning to assert themselves by holding on to their toys or by monopolizing a game or an activity. As they start to interact with kids their age, they also realize that others don’t always agree with them or feel the same way they do. Kids only see things in their own perspective, so they’ll say or do what they want, like grab another kid’s toy, unable yet to empathize with what the other feels. In turn, this provokes the aggrieved party to assert his or her right by grabbing the toy back. And so the fighting ensues.
“Mama and Papa love me more than they love you!” Young tots demand exclusive attention, affection, and affirmation, especially from their parents. They love to take center stage, savoring the idea that they can please or entertain others. Combine this egocentric quality with their inability to take turns and youcan just imagine the kind ofstress preschool teachers faceevery day.
“Get out of my room!” This is a simple case of clashing personalities. Very young siblings are typically curious—so they can’t help but explore ate’s or kuya’s room and tinker around. Older kids relish their personal space, and so take great offense—if not throw a teenaged fit—if anyone, even innocent little siblings, intrudes.
Stand Back, Stand By While imposing punitive measures is a shortcut for exhausted parents to quiet things down, allowing kids to resolve a quarrel on their own can provide more meaningful and lasting benefits.
Devera opines, “[Solving problems on their own] is a skill that will last kids a lifetime. They will need this to get along with people.” She admits that she would sometimes leave her kids Serena and Santiago to slug it out—and surprisingly most of the time, they do find solutions to their own conflicts. “Sometimes I just wait until one of them approaches me to tell me what the problem is, then I try to let them figure out what is fair and what is not.”
At Discovery Day Care, which she runs at home, Devera watches up to seven children ages 1 to 3, including her own two kids, every day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. She observes that the children usually fight over toys. When they do, Devera takes it as an opportunity to teach them about sharing and taking turns. “I let the child that had the toy first play with it a bit longer, then urge him to share it once he is done,” she illustrates.
With proper guidance, children must be given the opportunity to make choices: which toys they want to play with, what shoes they want to wear, what snack to bring to school. This helps them learn to trust and value their own feelings.
Children who are taught to assert themselves effectively by expressing their feelings and needs while respecting the feelings of others will grow up neither victims nor aggressors. Such kids will more likely be able to resist peer pressure and relate well with their peers and co-workers when they grow older.