Helping Your Child Settle Arguments and Disputes

By: Frank Bowers, Ph.D.
Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

Children fight and argue; some more than others, and some more subtly than others, but most children will at one time or another attempt to exert their influence over another. It is possible that their target will resist, resulting in an argument. Disagreements are a normal part of behavior and can show that your child is an independent thinker and a self-motivated person – both qualities you want your child to have! However, when these disagreements escalate into fighting, the result can be troubling for everyone involved.

One of the goals of parenting is to teach your child appropriate conflict resolution skills. These skills will be very helpful to them as they negotiate life in the context of a social world. Therefore, every argument your child has can be seen as an opportunity for him or her to practice conflict resolution. Here are some tips to help your child settle arguments and disputes in a constructive manner and minimize arguments and fighting.

  • Model appropriate conflict resolution skills. Like it or not, our children learn how to handle social situations by observing. If a child sees his father yelling and becoming aggressive, then the child will learn that yelling and aggressiveness are the normal ways to handle frustration. On the other hand, if his father models appropriate skills, the child will learn that behavior. One area where parents have a difficult time emotionally is when their children are fighting. It doesn’t make sense to scream at your child when you are trying to teach her how to remain calm! Take a deep breath and remember this is a learning opportunity.
  • Communicate your expectations clearly. Let him know from the beginning that you will not tolerate fighting.
  • Teach your child relaxation skills to assist her in calming down when she feels herself getting angry. When one reacts emotionally rather than responds thoughtfully, regretful behaviors are often the result. By learning to take some deep breaths before the explosion, there is a greater chance that she will respond appropriately, rather than react negatively.
  • Discuss and practice ways of resolving disputes productively. For example, if a child will not share a toy, discuss taking turns. Role-play various options for solutions to conflict, such as compromising or asking for help.
  • Avoid being the judge/arbiter/referee. If you have children who fight with each other, you will drive yourself crazy trying to determine who started it, or who is at fault, etc. Instead of taking sides, it is more helpful to give both consequences (it takes two to fight), and then have them work on appropriate negotiation skills.
  • Give positive feedback when you see your child attempting to use his or her new skill. Let your child know that you are watching and appreciate the effort he is making in trying to avoid arguments and fights.
  • Provide natural, logical consequences when your child gets into a fight. Make sure your child knows that fighting will automatically produce certain consequences. For example, if your children are fighting over the video game, the game gets turned off.

By helping your child learn how to resolve conflicts appropriately, you will be training them to be peacemakers. It does not happen overnight, but the peaceful results are worth the effort.