Kids fighting with their friends is not an unusual sight. People take time to navigate through friendships, be they casual or best friends forever. Tears, tantrums, despair, stubbornness, seclusion, resentment, and damaged feelings result from conflicts between two people. Some kids get naturally good at managing their relationships and the emotions attached to them, then others avoid disagreements and do not indulge in intense battles with their friends.
Parents can play a significant role in developing effective relationship skills, that may aid children in navigating through difficult issues they may face often. However, parents find it difficult in knowing when to step in and take charge of the situation and offer advice or support to their kids, and also when to just stay out of the fight. The best is teaching your kids how to handle conflicts they would have with their friends.
1. Why Kids Fight With Their Friends
Children clash over various reasons with their friends, misunderstandings, arguments over petty things, feeling left out, and bullying says Andy Brimhall, Ph.D., LMFT, a marriage and family therapist with specialties in parenting, behavioral problems of children, and adolescents. These fights can end friendships, are short-lived or episodic, and have big blowouts.
Emotions can run high and their reactions can be significant, explains Dr. Brimhall. On the contrary, some introverted kids do not like sharing their feelings.
These kids struggle in establishing boundaries in relationships or have healthy conversations to avoid conflicts. Every child has a different approach to effectively handling their conflicts with their friends, and parents worry about how to help them overcome or avoid these situations.
“It is absolutely common for kids to experience peer conflict,” says Honora Einhorn, LICSW, MA, a licensed independent clinical social worker and behavioral therapist who specializes in working with children, adolescents, and families. Moreover, these conflicts might be beneficial for children giving them a chance to practice their prosocial skills.
2. General Guidelines for Offering Help
It’s essential to strike the right balance of helping and letting kids sort things out on their own, says Dr. Brimhall.
Parents should be changing their approach as their kids grow, but this does not mean their kids won’t need help when growing up.
It’s important to keep an eye on your child’s social relationships. Then, if and when blow-ups happen, you’ll be there to provide the appropriate level of support, says Dr. Brimhall. “Start with the two hallmarks of parenting: warmth and structure.” Aim to be your child’s emotions coach by acknowledging feelings, modeling calm, caring, listening behavior, reflecting together, and then working on finding solutions,” advises the Greenville, North Carolina-based therapist.
The challenge is knowing the right time to step in, parents usually misjudge the situation and intervene in a conflict they were not supposed to, additionally offering support at every set will limit your child’s learning. Every child needs different attention, parents need to know when to help their child.
Whether your child is an attacker, a backbiter, or the recipient of harmful behavior, both kinds of kids require equal attention from their parents. Both these behaviors are hurtful and harmful for children at both ends and parents should act at the very first sign they catch and prevent future occurring.
3. Age-by-Age Tips
Every fight of your child is personal and unique to behavior and relationships. Constant bickering and misunderstandings are an issue with some kids whereas, occasional spats or festering, unspoken hurts cause issues with others, whereas some don’t have any arguments.
Then there are the little ones with issues like sharing and taking turns. Nevertheless, your child’s fighting and argument-handling skills may vary at every age and stage. So will your ability to handle your child and navigate them through everything.
4. Toddlers and Preschoolers
Younger children have lesser physical or emotional fights, hence more secondary intervention is needed by the parents. “Three to 4 year-olds are typically quite egocentric, have had fewer social interactions, and are not yet the best problem-solvers,” explains Einhorn.
The arguments that toddlers and preschoolers experience is majorly based on their possessions, communication issues, and lack of awareness and empathy. In such situations wait for things to settle on their terms, if they don’t, step in to address the issue.
“It’s important for parents to understand that if their child has a tantrum while fighting with a friend, their emotions are past the point of no return. It’s not the time for a teaching moment,” says Dr. Brimhall.
Distract them and help them focus on other things and eventually calm down. Once they are distracted make them understand where they went wrong.
5. Elementary School-Age Kids
After kindergarten kids move on to elementary school age and this is the age when they learn problem-solving skills, now their fights become more intense and hurtful and they develop social relationships aside from their families.
Kids at this age learn to handle their battles on their own and start looking for resolutions. Let your kids navigate through their issues themselves and offer help when you feel they are struggling for it. Use strong empathetic statements to make them feel heard and trusted.
Taking deep breaths and walking away if necessary to calm down are also good techniques to impart to your child. This approach can be taught using the stoplight strategy, suggests Einhorn.
“Ask your child to close their eyes and picture a stoplight,” says Einhorn. “When the red light is on (too intense), they should take three deep breaths and think of something calming. When the light turns yellow, it’s time to evaluate the problem.
Can they handle this on their own? Do they need adult help? Think of two problem-solving strategies that might work. When the light turns green, choose a strategy (ask for help, go outside and run around, work on a compromise) and give it a try.”
Then comes middle school, this age is filled with awkwardness, social angst, and a lot of “drama” among friends. Kids now hit puberty and that brings early romantic relationships, social and family stress, and pressure to fit in.
“Social relationships become more important as youth become more self-conscious and peer relationships feel more significant,” explains Einhorn.
For this age group, Einhorn recommends teaching your child the principles of SOAR: Stop, Observe, Assess, and Respond.
Stop, and give them a little time to cool off. In the meantime build a calming strategy to handle their emotions. Introspect the intensity of the problems and think about a plan of action.
Take responsibility, if appropriate. After that, implement the solution with the final step and, forgive the friends or apologize.
The last step to adulthood, high school teens have much better developed prosocial skills and so are their peer conflicts. High school kids face extreme peer pressure and their social dynamics change too often.
Major issues that teens deal with are dating issues, changing interests, and miscommunications. To overcome these issues certain strategies can help your teens solve their conflicts.
Build communication strong with them, this will promote openness and encourage them to share their conflicts. However, aim to give them space to “talk it out” with their friends. Encourage them to practice perspective-taking (the idea that both perspectives matter) and build strong communication skills.
Your main aim should be teaching them how to solve their issues independently.
“Say, ‘I’m here for you and can provide a sounding board if needed,’ but trust in their ability to make good choices and handle the conflict on their own,” advises Dr. Brimhall.