Hi Annie

I need help with my children’s behaviour, particularly in terms of how to get my kids to stop fighting?  My son is 3 and I have a two year old daughter. My son hits her and pushes her all the time. He talks back and yells. My daughter will throw a temper tantrum over anything. When will they stop fighting!!! 


Hi Heather,

I Need Help With My Child's BehaviourThanks for writing to me.  How to get my kids to stop fighting is one of the questions I get asked the most.  The constant fighting must be very hard for you and I’m sure it causes you a lot of unnecessary stress.

So how do I get my kids to stop fighting?

How to get my kids to stop fighting is something that keeps many parents up at night.  Let’s look in to it. The first thing you have to figure out whether this comes under the banner of normal rough and tumble sibling spats or whether there is something more to it?  I have to be honest though and when I read your letter, it came across that your children are expressing some ‘red flag’ behaviours. 

So what do I mean by red flag behaviours? What I mean by that, is that children try and let you know when they have an issue.  They don’t come up to you, hold your hand and say calmly, “Mum/Dad, I think we have a problem.”  Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you are doing your level best to parent these kids and be assured that of all the years I’ve worked with parents, there hasn’t been one that hasn’t cared or isn’t trying their hardest. It’s more a question of where you are putting that effort.

First, determine why are my kids fighting?   

So first we have to understand what children really need here. I go on about this long and hard on my website but that is only because the message is so critical. Children need love and leadership. You obviously love your children very much so no problem there, but leadership is where you are having an issue and it directly relates to all the behaviours you are seeing.

By leadership I mean providing direction.  When you want to determine why your kids are fighting, look at your family structure.  Implicit in that is a hierarchy, not because of some need to be controlling but because you are the adult and they are the children. 

Children are programmed to want to get that direction from you. You are the one that must provide limits to their world and explain to them what they can and cannot do. If you provide that leadership, consistently and calmly, all well and good. If you don’t or are inconsistent in your efforts, your children will show the insecurity that creates in them through their behaviour and you’ll be sitting there wondering why you can’t get your kids to stop fighting.   I believe that is what you’re seeing.

Provide consistent leadership.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his book, ‘Hold on to your kids,’ explains that kids need the right amount of nurturing and dominance and that too much of one or the other leads to children, who among other things, feel it necessary to dominate their peers.  I’ve written about it in my post, ‘how to stop bullying.’  While it isn’t possible to love too much, it is very possible to nurture too much or rather incorrectly. Where Dr. Neufeld sees nurturing, I see leadership. Nurturing incorrectly is often expressed in the real world by a parent who wants to be their child’s friend and is therefore deficient in leadership.

Why do kids fight?

You might be interested to know that many animal species display the same needs as their human counterparts. Mr. Neufeld goes on to explain the repercussions of a lack of dominance by using what happened at a wildlife reserve in South Africa as an example. Essentially it caused bullying. The reserve needed to relocate some young African elephants in the 1980′s as they were running out of room. Younger elephants were chosen over adult males because the adult males were already too large to transport.

By the 1990′s however, rare white rhinos started showing up dead in the reserve. They hadn’t just been killed but had been gored and stamped on. Initially, it was thought that the cause might be poachers but the tusks remained intact, so that was ruled out. Eventually, it turned out that some of the adolescent male elephants had turned in to bullies who had tossed sticks at, mounted and in some cases, knocked the rhinos over, kneeling on them and crushing them to death.

This was a case of ‘Lord of the flies’ if ever there was one. In 1998, some adult males were introduced to the group who re-established a hierarchy, kept the young males in check and as a result, the killings promptly stopped.

Whenever a behaviour crops up you need to see its cause.

So why am I telling you this? Well because red flag behaviours are controlling behaviours and your children are showing through their behaviour that your love/leadership equation is out of whack. The need to dominate is showing itself toward you and your daughter and I know that may be difficult to hear, but I think it’s important for you to have the whole picture so you can get this behaviour to stop.

What I do want to point out though is, please don’t think this behaviour will go away by itself. These red flags behaviours are your children expressing a need, one that must be satisfied. If it is, terrific. If not, the lack of having that need met creates a hole, one that shows itself in all sorts of disturbing ways in later life. Still in your case, you still have time on your side and that’s a great thing.

Leadership is one of the most important aspects of parenting.

Unfortunately, I can’t address what to do exactly in this letter as the ramifications of what I’m seeing here have many many aspects to it. What I can tell you is my website has numerous letter and blogs that explain the day to day aspects of restoring leadership. You can also reach out to me personally, as a professional that understands this dynamic. Whatever avenue you take you, have a window of opportunity to change what you’re doing and have both you and your children reap the benefits.

I wish you all the luck in the world.


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