Kids Fighting

No rough and tumble!

Do your children fight all the time?

By Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel

I teach workshops on anger, so talking about fighting is literally the tip of the iceberg. What we need to look at is why we are so angry as a nation. We’re all rushing through life, constantly late, pushing and screaming at our children to hurry up or not to forget something. Everyone on the freeway seems to be hurrying, disregarding the needs of others. We watch endless violence on TV, in movies and the games we play. Our country has traded faith for fear, perpetuated by an emphasis on the violence erupting in too many communities and schools.

I would like us to teach peace, kindness and inner-trust in our homes and schools. Doing so will take a huge shift in consciousness, so I will talk about handling anger in our homes as it now exists.

Fighting: Where there are two children, a fight is likely to brew. Learning to use your words instead of your fists needs parents who model that. First there needs to be a boundary. (In our home there was a rule that every person was kind to each other.) Since it is not kind to punch someone else, there needs to be a consequence for that choice.

Because the parent is angry, the consequence is too often a spanking. Spanking models that it is acceptable to hit someone when you are angry. It teaches the child to fear you rather than to think of the consequence of his or her choice. Spanking teaches a child to lie, to be devious and it sets off the anger/resentment/revenge cycle.

An angry parent runs into a room where two darling children are hitting each other. “Why are you fighting?” is the question most parents ask, and that sets off the “who can tell the biggest lie” game. Having heard a lie, one sibling gets angrier at the other and thoughts of getting even enter the mental arena.

It actually isn’t any of your business as to why they are fighting. Your job is to set the boundary of no fighting, use words instead, and face a consequence for a poor choice. There might be an obvious solution for the problem. (“You play with the toy for 10 minutes, and when the timer goes off, it is your brother’s turn for 10 minutes with that toy.”) The parent might ask the children to find a solution by saying, “I will keep the toy for 30 minutes unless you come up with a solution upon which you both agree.”

Some days it is best to divide and conquer, the oldest military strategy on the planet: “For the next hour, Kathleen, you play in the family room and you, Scott, can take some toys to play in the living room.” The rule for this idea is, “Play together nicely and you stay together. Fight and you are separated.”

Skills are best taught out of the heat of battle. If one child is constantly taking the other child’s toy, making a snide remark, tripping a peer, talk to him/her about it. Explain that kindness is a rule, and unkindness is not an option in your home. If you use the “penny system” in my discipline program called the “Minute Drill” (, remind the child that breaking any kindness rule will cost a penny. When it costs too much, a child will change a behavior.

Fighting in the car: Children have an instinct for knowing when the parent cannot do anything to stop their behavior. For instance, they know that you must pay attention when you are driving and they can, therefore, do whatever they want to do in the backseat. So, they check it out and begin hitting each other.

When you scream and yell at children, they cannot “hear” you. Therefore, screaming at them to stop fighting is useless. Threatening is not a strategy that comes from power. It is also time-consuming and tedious to remember who you threatened with what and follow through. Ask the children to stop fighting.

When the fighting continues, pull the car over to the side of the road. Stop the engine. Turn off the radio. Sit there. Say nothing. Watch the traffic. Relax. Pretty soon a voice from the back seat will ask, “Mom?” (or “Dad?”), to which you will answer in a pleasant voice (because you are not angry, you are simply answering the children’s question, “Is this how we use power?”), “Yes?” And the child will continue, “Why did you stop the car?” Once again, in your relaxed voice respond, “It is not safe for me to drive when children are fighting.” Then return to daydreaming or watching traffic. When the children promise to stop fighting, drive the car again. If they start fighting again, stop the car.

With the world in as much chaos as it is now, getting children to solve problems without fighting is a monumental job. It begins with enforcing the rule, “We are kind in our home.”

For 54 years, Sandy has been an international speaker and recognized authority on families and children. Author of five books, columnist, founder of, she is a resident of Meridian and loves spending time with her three Idaho grandchicks. Semi-retired, she speaks to schools, churches, and MOPS groups and provides parent coaching sessions in person and on the phone. She is available for parenting talks/trainings in the Treasure Valley and may be reached at Also, go to YouTube: Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel to see videos on specific parenting issues.

Idaho Family Magazine