Arguments between children can be upsetting for a parent. You may worry about your relationship with your children – 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.
While some arguing between children is common – and indeed, might be 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.
Why and how children argue
We need 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 they don’t get enough attention?
While arguments in children might often be about seemingly trivial things, there is often an emotional root – something that’s 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 important to recognise bullying when it does occur, as it can have damaging effects on the recipient’s self-esteem. Or perhaps both are showing aggression – and little spats are spiralling out of control quickly.
Talking about it
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 is rarely the most productive route. It can be much more effective to address directly what’s happening and to help your children talk about what they’re feeling and understand why they’re arguing.
This can simply mean taking the time to sit down and talk with your children when they have a fight. Start a 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, 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 emotions behind the arguments and whether there are things that you all need to talk through together.
It’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to take the time to talk to your children about their feelings when you 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’s not always possible to pull this off perfectly, it doesn’t mean it can’t have a 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
It’s also about leading by example. 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 in certain ways when you disagree – getting really angry with one another, or refusing to engage – there’s a risk that they may begin to do the same.
So, we need to look after our own relationship and ensure we’re modelling the behaviour we would like our children to follow.
If you’d like to talk about any of this with one our counsellors why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01604 634400.