Responding to Children's Quarrels

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip - Responding to a quarrel based on the child's needs will go a long way to diminishing future bickering.

Tools - The following techniques for responding to children's conflicts are drawn from Elizabeth Crary's book Kids Can Cooperate: A Practical Guide to Teaching Problem Solving.

Quarrelling for Parental Attention. A parent's options include teaching children how to ask for attention or help constructively, avoiding the problem by spending some special time alone with each child every day, or by teaching them problem-solving skills in order to resolve their conflicts themselves, peacefully.

Quarrelling for Companionship. An idea for parents in this instance is to restructure the play environment so that each child has enough available space and activities. Too little room often increases quarrelling. Parents need to provide ideas and activities that are appropriate for mixed ages as well.

In addition, teach your younger child to recognize the feelings of others. She needs to be able to identify anger, frustration, or happiness on her sibling's face. You can also help your older child with figuring out ways to involve the younger sibling in the activity of the moment. Many older siblings are very good at this once parents help point them in the right direction. Lastly, make sure both children have adequate play time with playmates of their own ages. No child should be expected to be the sole playmate of his sibling.

Quarrelling for Power. These are especially frustrating conflicts for parents, as it is hard to determine who is really to blame. Because manipulation is usually at work, decline to assign blame if you didn't witness the whole incident. Instead, focus on problem-solving. For example, say, "I'm not interested in who started it. Let's look at your options now. What do you need to be able to play pleasantly together?" and then facilitate a win-win solution.

Reprinted with permission from Parenting Press's weekly parenting tips, copyright © 2004.

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