Six-year-old Billy wants to take a turn on the swing during school recess time but six-year-old Susie will not get off the swing when he asks for a turn. Finally, Billy grabs at the swing and stops it. Susie yells and kicks at Billy who, in turn, yells and hits at Susie.
Susie and Billy have a real life problem: how to share the swing.They have a problem in how to share the swing, and because they do not know how to solve it, they are fighting to get what they think they have a right to.
James 4:1-2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.
Phil. 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfishness but think of others as better than yourself, don’t only think about your needs but think about the needs of others.
Fighting often happens not for revenge or to get attention, but because children have a real life issue that needs to be solved. Fighting to solve a problem between children is not a misbehavior, because in these situations their primary goal is to attempt to get what they think they have a right to have. They do not want revenge (aggression). They do not want the attention of adults (self-indulgent). The deepest issue is not the hitting, it is the lack of knowledge of how to resolve a conflict peacefully. They need help from an adult to learn other ways of solving the problem.
Children, especially very young ones, usually do not know how to go about solving problems without hitting and yelling. This is not surprising since human beings have an instinctive reflex to lash out and protect themselves whenever they feel threatened. In this culture, children also see hitting and yelling glorified on television.
Children often initiate fights with another child because they simply do not know how to handle the situation any other way. Yet there are other ways to resolve disputes that children can be taught from a very early age. Whenever you see a fight between children, first consider whether or not it is a problem-solving situation. Do not try to categorize it as self-indulgent or aggressive until you have first helped the kids learn some negotiating skills.
Here is an example of a fight between two children that began as an attempt to solve a problem. Six-year-old Josh wants to take a turn on the swing during school recess time but six-year-old Linda will not get off the swing when he asks for a turn. Finally, Josh grabs at the swing and stops it. Linda yells and kicks at Josh who, in turn, yells and hits at Linda.
Linda and Josh have a real life problem: how to share the swing. They are not fighting for attention from the teacher (self-indulgence), and neither child is so angry that they are trying to get revenge by causing real pain to the other child (aggressive). They have a problem in how to share the swing, and because they do not know how else to solve it, they are fighting to get what they think they have a right to have. They need an adult to intercede and help them learn some beginning rudiments of negotiation and problem solving.
Here is another example of a disagreement between young children: Three year old Josh gets out the two sided chalkboard and begins drawing, Linda comes over and joins him on the other side. Linda takes the eraser and erases. Josh asks to use it. Linda says “No”. Josh asks to “Please” use it, Linda still says “No.” Josh asks when he would be able to use it, Linda says “Never”. She continues erasing nothing at all! Josh knows the rule at his house is no tattling. So he can’t get an adult to help. What options is he left with, he could give up which doesn’t seem fair or he could try to get it back. So he begins rocking the chalk board. Linda screams, Mom looks over to see Josh rocking the chalkboard and now who is in trouble? Little Josh. Because of the no tattling rule in his home, they will repeat this scenario thousands of times. Linda will practice being a bully and Josh will practice using physical means of getting his way. Neither child is benefiting from this rule. Both are learning and practicing inappropriate ways of relating.
1. A coworker is verbally abusive to you, steals and destroys your property and sabotages your work. You have tried to work it out by talking to no avail, you should: A. Steal your co- worker’s things until yours are returned, B. Tell your supervisor, or C. Turn the other cheek
2. Someone is threatening to beat you up after school, you should: A. Gather your friends to meet the bully after school armed with knives, B. Tell the principal, or C. Allow yourself to be bullied.
Answers: B for both questions. There are situations where the safest, wisest and most beneficial choice for everyone involved, is to ask for help.
Many parents encourage children to solve problems among themselves, because they believe that allowing children to get adults involved, encourages tattling. But getting help from an adult is not tattling. Tattling is done with the motivation for other children to get punished. Children can be taught the difference between tattling and getting help. When adults get involved it should be to remind the children of the rules and procedures and enforce them (set a timer for taking turns, use rock-paper-scissors to pick who’s first, etc.). If a child genuinely needs help, he needs to be able to get it. If we teach children that telling is always wrong, we are teaching them a moral that, taken to the extreme, can compromise their safety. Teaching children not to get and adult is stealing an important resource that should be available. It is important for children to know that they can get help when they need it, because sometimes when they have done everything right, the other child involved continues to break all of the rules. This is frustrating to the healthy child, it enforces the belief that good behavior is ineffective in the real world. They end up believing that following God’s ways are nice ideas but if you want to survive in the real world you must use the world’s methods. God has put authority in place to protect us and enforce the laws of the land, and for the most part, if we go to the authorities they can handle the situation better than we can (unless they are corrupt). Children should be learning that they can turn to authority for justice rather than taking the law into their own hands. God has created order and we need to model this order in our homes. A healthy view of authority is that authority is good and can be called upon to enforce justice. Children should not have to resort to retaliation or self-defense. That is why parents, teachers and police are there (Romans 13). When children are left to fend for themselves, they develop streetwise skills: watch your back, get revenge, fight fire with fire. Kids who have parents that will help them solve problems learn to use that resource. When they are taught that parents do not have the role of helping kids with their problems, children find their own means for survival. These children believe that they should only interact with their peers, and exclude the adult world, because adults are believed to be unavailable, ineffective, unhelpful, unjust, uninvolved, and unconcerned. They don’t go to teachers when someone is picking on them and this either results in them being severely abused by others or it results in built up anger which, as we have seen, can result in violence as gruesome as school shootings.
Rather than teaching your children that the only solutions to problems are fighting or becoming a victim, teach them conflict resolution skills which include as a last resort, getting a mediator or authority involved. The following instructions can be posted as a handy reminder of the steps for resolving conflict.
How to stop a fight
1. If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them to “Please, stop” in a nice voice. Or, if the fight is about a toy or game, agree on a way to take turns. Set a timer and do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first.
2. If they don’t listen, tell them if they do it again you will have to get an adult.
3. If they still don’t listen, get an adult.
No yelling, No hurting, No hurtful words.