It’s only ten am and your five year old is beating up his three year old brother. Again! Both children have been in time out twice, have had several lectures, and worst of all, this fight is over that ball bat that you took away from them yesterday. You told them they could get it back when they behaved themselves and would share. Well, they woke up pretty calm and co-operative but that was three hours ago. They shared the bat for about two minutes and started fighting. You are wondering how to get through this day without taking another Tylenol.
Why do children fight? And why don’t strategies like taking the toy away or time out or lectures ultimately work?
There are many reasons why young children resort to battle.
The young child lives in a world of “me, me, me.” Everything is about and revolves around self. It’s difficult, if not almost impossible, for a young child to think about the needs of another without having been taught to do this. We try to teach “sharing” but, when a young child is told to “share” without a conversation, she interprets sharing as loss.
Language is also a problem. Young children don’t have a lot of language with which to communicate the problem or the strong feelings that accompany it. They also don’t know how to solve problems yet. But they do know how to use their bodies so the alternative is to fight.
Taking away the toy or the privilege doesn’t work for several reasons. First of all, it builds resentment and escalates bad feelings. Secondly it does not give the child the opportunity to learn to use the toy or the privilege or learn to share. The problem disappears for the moment. But beware! It will resurface somewhere else because it has not been solved.
Lectures don’t work because they are one sided. The child is talked at. He has no opportunity to engage or discuss. Lectures are boring, repetitive and easily forgotten.
Time out is, in and of itself, not a terrible idea. It’s not the best way to go but it certainly is better than most other options. When time out is properly implemented, it is not a punishment, but a calm down time making.
Which leads us to the best option? Talking about the situation with the children involved and acting as a facilitator.
Before you even talk, however, be sure that the feelings of the children are calmed down. Nobody can talk when they are upset. Acknowledge how they feel and let them express before beginning to talk.
To begin the conversation be sure to get each child’s version of the problem. Don’t assume that you know what happened because you probably weren’t there. Even if you were, you may not have paid close enough attention or missed something important.
Finally ask the children to come up with a solution and choose one that they can both agree to. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s fair as long as it works for the children!
Then, stick around, and make sure that everything works out. You may or may not be needed.
Sounds like a lot of work? At first, it may be. But the beauty of this is that after a pretty short while, your children will do this without you. Ahhhh! You can loose the Tylenol. Peace, sweet peace!