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The Parent'Hood

Do parents need to be in middle of kids' fights?

By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers

May 18, 2012

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Your spouse wants to break up every fight between your kids. You want them to work out their differences. Who's right?

Parent advice

(from our panel of staff contributors)

It's not necessarily wrong to break up a fight before it escalates, but that doesn't mean you have to decide who's right; they can negotiate that themselves. Civility is a good thing to enforce, whether that means stopping a fight or just getting them not to use inflammatory words like "stupid." The message: Don't fight; work it out.

Mark Caro

Some parents have more tolerance for the cacophony of kids squabbling, so the difference between these parents might just be in noise tolerance. There's a middle ground between solving every problem and turning your home into "Fight Club." The arguments present a good opportunity to get the children to learn to fight fair, curb personal attacks, figure out how to resolve differences equitably and so forth.

Maureen Hart

Expert advice

All fights are not created equal, says Adele Faber, co-author of "Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too" (W.W. Norton & Company). Faber tells a story of a friend whose children were chasing each other through the house — one wielding a kitchen knife and the other toting a hot iron. Break up that fight.

Otherwise…

"There's so much to be gained from fighting," Faber says. "They're learning to assert themselves, defend themselves, compromise, differentiate between rough and too rough and, sometimes, just having fun pushing and wrestling each other, which they need. How much wrestling do you want to do with them?"

Probably not much, unless you're wrestling a hot iron from their hands. Under less heated circumstances, the trick is to determine whether your assistance will help or hinder. Start with a question.

"I hear screaming," Faber suggests. "Do you two need help or can you work it out yourselves?"

If they request help, or if fighting escalates, take care to offer help objectively.

"You don't want to push them into a bully/victim pattern," she says.

Try something like this: "'You two sound really mad at each other. I want to hear what happened — one at a time,'" Faber suggests. "Then listen to each one and acknowledge what they said. 'You're irritated because you had a whole plan to build a zoo and you knew just what you were going to do. And you're mad because that gave you the idea to build a farm and you want to use the same animals. This isn't easy! Two kids who want to play with the same toys at the same time!'

"You state the problem with dignity," Faber says. "You don't say, 'You two are fighting over some stupid animals? You know people like you are the reason we have wars in this world! Why can't you just learn to get along?'"

Then put the onus back where it belongs: "'You know what? I have confidence that you two smarty-pants can put your heads together and come up with a solution that's fair to you (point to one) and to you (point to the other) and I'm going to leave you to it. Let me know what you come up with.'

"Otherwise they'll just start fighting for you to take one side or the other or spend a bunch of time proving to you how injured they are."

This may sound a little long-winded, but Faber says to bear this in mind: "You're teaching them how to live with other human beings. Whatever we do in our little microcosm of our families is how our kids go out and live in the world."

Ideally, not wielding hot irons.

Have a solution?

Grandma is remarrying and your kids don't love the new guy. Can you ask her to leave him home when she comes to visit? Email us at parenthood@tribune.com. Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.