Listening to children squabble gets old fast. Afterall, they are supposed to love one another and be kind. Their fighting disrupts the peace in the household and does not reflect our beliefs about how family members treat each other. So why do they do it? The answer is not complex and actually makes a lot of sense.
Conflict management is an important life skill children need to learn to get along with others throughout their lives. The place they develop these skills is at home with their siblings. The squabbling is functional. Through it they learn about conflict and how to respond to it. They learn to read body positioning, facial expression, and tone of voice and to understand boundaries and the different meanings of conflict words. They also learn how they can affect the outcome of a conflict and the different strategies for managing it. All this is learned through trial and error. Even though it is hard to listen to, parents are best to stay out of it unless there is a threat of harm. A strategy is to tell the warring children that you don’t want to listen to it and to take the conflict our side. It is amazing how quickly a solution will be found, especially in winter! Look for opportunities to mentor your children in conflict management strategies such as negotiating or creative problem solving. Don’t try and provide solutions or tell them not to have the conflict. Remember that your children are experiencing on-the-job training which will be of great benefit to them in the future. When conflict erupts, tell yourself it is better to learn about conflict at home with people who care than somewhere else with others who don’t.
The Achieve Center blog is written by the professionals who are focused on children's mental health.