I'm a child behavioural expert – how to deal with your children fighting… plus the genius way to stop it in seconds | The Sun
26th September 2022

THEREare few things more frustrating as a parent than when your children fight.

We often find ourselves jumping in to try and break up the situation.

But parenting coach and child behaviour expert Madeleine Woolgar has explained that that's one of the worst things we can do.

"Firstly, it shows your children that it's a very quick way to get your attention (and when it comes to attention, even the negative stuff fills what I call their 'connection cup')," Madeleine told us.

"Secondly by you always jumping in (often to get to the bottom of it!) they start to rely on you to resolve the issue instead of building the skills to be able to navigate the situation themselves (which they need support to learn)."

So what should we do instead?

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Madeleine has four suggestions on what to try to support your children to fight less.

Slow down your response (unless there's a safety issue)

"The first thing that's important to do is to move slower when the fighting starts," Madeleine advised.

"Your instinct will be to jump in quickly, but unless there's safety involved, then move towards them more slowly than feels natural. 

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"For your child, there's a sure fire way to get your attention when you said you were busy and that's to start screaming in the other room at each other.

"Not all children fight for this reason alone, but it is certainly part of the attention dynamic.

"If you light up like a Christmas tree when you hear your children fighting, please know that you're not alone.

"Changing your speed and the way in which you respond is going to help hugely to change this dynamic. 

"As you move towards them, remember that your children aren't fighting to make your day more difficult (although sometimes it can feel like that!)

"All behaviour is communication and when siblings fight – which can be for many reasons – they are just trying to communicate."

Madeleine added that by moving slower, we help children learn that fighting isn't a quick way to get our attention.  

"We always want to show our child that we are there to support them, but our speed in response to this behaviour matters," she explained.

Help them communicate differently

"We want to support children to communicate differently rather than fighting – this is an important life skill," she continued.

"This means as a parent you need to do more than tell them to just 'Stop fighting, you two!' (we've all been there!)"

It's all about helping your child to use "more effective communication".

"For example, if your child is screaming because their sibling took their toy, we need to help them to say an age-appropriate response instead," Madeleine explained.

"If they're under 2, for example, they could say 'No' rather than screaming and hitting.

"If they're 7 they could say 'I don't like it when you take my toy, next time please ask'.

"This is about equipping your children to communicate more effectively when something is happening that they don't like.

"Something that we as adults sometimes struggle with too!" 

Preventative measures

"One of things I see increasingly at the moment with the families I work with is that children are experiencing more overstimulation and demand fatigue post-school," Madeleine said.

"It can be really helpful to facilitate your children having some quiet time on their own to unwind after school rather than getting frustrated with each other.

"A lot of the families I work with find this really useful thing to do to reduce fighting when they first get home from school."

Celebrate when they play well together 

"When we have children who fight, we forget to notice the times when they don't fight," Madeleine said.

"Usually because you're taking that one rare, calm moment to do something productive whilst you can!

"But it's important to show your children how excited you get when they play well together."

It's not a case of disrupting your kids while they're playing – you can tell them afterwards.

"Make your celebration both genuine and specific – these kind of celebrations are much more helpful than just telling your child 'Well done' – they need to know what they've done that you're excited about.

"Make sure to celebrate too when they communicate in more productive ways than just fighting.

"Listen out for those times when they're navigating not getting what they want more effectively – in this way you are shining a light on what you want more of."

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Madeleine Woolgar is a parenting coach and child behaviour expert, specialising in supporting parents with strong-willed children (including those with a suspected and confirmed autism diagnosis).

She has a free Facebook community 'Heart-led Mums for Strong-willed Children' and free resources to reduce daily battles on her website.

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