Arguments between children can be upsetting for a parent. You may worry about your children’s relationship – especially if the arguments have been going on regularly for a while. You may feel a responsibility to stop the arguing, or may be upset that the arguments are causing disharmony in your family unit.
While some level of arguing between children isn’t uncommon – and indeed, might be reasonably expected – what can make a difference is the regularity and intensity of arguments. If your children are constantly at odds, or arguments are becoming really aggressive or even physical, this can create real problems.
Understanding why and how children argue
When thinking about how to address the situation, the best place to start is to try and understand where the arguments are coming from.
Is it about the same thing each time or something different? If it’s something different, are certain dynamics being played out each time – for example, one child feeling that the other always gets favourable treatment, or feeling like they don’t get enough attention? While arguments in children might often be about seemingly trivial things, there is very often an emotional root – something that is upsetting one or both of the children and making them want to argue.
Likewise, how are the arguments playing out? Do certain patterns repeat? Is one child being aggressive or bullying the other? This is quite common and it’s very important to recognise bullying when it does occur, as it can have really damaging effects on the self-esteem of the recipient. Or perhaps both are showing aggression – and little spats are spiralling out of control quickly.
Start talking about the arguments
The temptation when children are arguing is to be either dismissive or aggressive. It’s easy to not take children particularly seriously when they fight – particularly if the cause of the fight is over something apparently petty or trivial – or just to tell them to be quiet.
But this rarely the most productive route. It can be much more effective to directly address what’s happening and to help your children talk about what they’re feeling and understand why they’re arguing.
In practice, this can simply mean taking the time to sit down and talk with your children when they have a fight. Instead of breaking them up and doling out punishment, start a proper conversation about what’s happening: ask them why they’re angry, upset or sad and be sure to give each child a chance to tell their side of the story.
By talking things through properly, you’ll help both children feel ‘heard’ and give them a chance to express their emotions in a more constructive way. By listening to them and encouraging them to express themselves, you’re teaching them that negative feelings can be addressed by talking – not just by shouting. And it’ll help you to understand your children better – to understand the real emotions behind the arguments and whether there are things that you all need to talk through together.
We understand completely that this is easier said than done. It’s one thing to take the time to talk to your children about their feelings when you actually have a spare hour – quite another when they’re screaming at each other as you pile them in the car to go to school. But just because it won’t always be possible to pull this off perfectly doesn’t mean it can’t have a really positive effect overall. And if you feel that a big discussion isn’t possible at that moment, you can always have one later – park the issue till it’s possible to go over things properly.
Modelling good behaviour and healthy relationships
Similarly, it’s also about leading by example. Very often, children learn how to communicate by watching their parents. And that includes how you argue. If they see that you and your partner are behaving certain ways when you disagree – getting really angry with one another, or refusing to engage properly – there’s a risk that they may begin to do the same thing.
As such, it’s also important to look after your own relationship and make sure you’re modelling the behaviour you would like your children to follow. You may need to think about whether youand your partner have got into any bad habits when it comes to communicating, or whether there are any issues in your own relationship that need sorting out.
If you’d like to read more about communicating effectively, you might like to take a look at the following articles:
If you and your partner feel you may benefit from additional support, Relate offers family counselling in many of its locations across the UK.