Hi Annie, My sons keep fighting! We have a six year old and just-turned-three year old pair of boys. We are at our wits’ end trying to stamp out their extremely physical play and interactions. Our six year old will quietly provoke our three year old until there’s a flurry of hitting, kicking and throwing of objects. Our six year old then tries to act like a victim, sometimes also hitting back, with the old “he started it first.” We’ve talked to them, tried time outs, and have recently taken away the majority of their toys with the understanding that they need to earn them back. Thing’s aren’t getting any better. Our three year old hits and kicks us, as well, when he doesn’t get his way.
I’ve also begun a character ed type program with my older son, involving reading, activities, role playing and discussions. Our talks are great, but it all seems to go out the window when their tempers start to flare. Any advice on promoting greater self control?
Signed, ‘In the Crossfire’
Hi, ‘In the Crossfire,’
This is a tricky problem, normally one I’d encourage you to deal with through my behaviour intervention service which allows me to help you find the cause of the behaviour. However, it looks like you are making a major effort to correct on your own, so I’ll try and help you as best I can. It sounds from your observations as though the issue lies primarily with your six year old. You mentioned that your three year old hits and kicks when he doesn’t get his way. Perhaps his challenging behaviour results in him receiving more of your attention and that’s perceived by your oldest as favouritism. Those feelings could in turn produce a jealous reaction on his part, despite your program, which sounds great.
When it comes to your three year old, he could simply be reacting to his brother’s provocation or perhaps just be dealing with the last of the difficulties often associated with the two year old age group.
Examine the possible causes
A certain amount of boisterous physical play is normal, particularly amongst boys. However, it sounds as though it has escalated beyond that. Whatever the cause, fighting like this is indicative of a build-up of frustration and is often an attention seeking behaviour. I don’t know all the circumstances in your family, but I think your first step should be to look for any underlying problems. Whatever the cause, important questions to ask yourselves are: 1. Are my partner and I both consistent and on the same page when it comes to parenting? 2. Are we inadvertently tuning them out ie.: not really listening? 3. Are we treating them equally? 4. Does each child feel that for some point during the day he has our individual attention? 5. Are we making them part of the activity but not always the focus of it. 6.Is there some structure to our day , ie.: a routine?
Find out who the instigator really is
Many parents are often aware there is an instigator but aren’t always totally sure who it is. My advice is take the time to make sure. Put yourself in a position for a few days when you look busy but aren’t so you can observe what’s going on. Who is bugging who? Take note. It’ll probably become apparent fairly quickly and then you’ll have a head start when it comes to dealing with the problem.
Make sure both parents are on the same page
After asking yourselves these questions and making any appropriate changes, agree on a few important family rules together with your partner. Then as a family sit down and go over those rules together. Include one rule that informs your kids that hitting, kicking and/or throwing of objects will no longer be allowed….period. Get down on their level and really talk to them.
Focus on the positive and offer no attention to the negative
Once everyone is aware of the rules, it’s time to put them in to action. However, first always try to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Try and catch your children behaving well, even if it’s just for a second. Watch very carefully by getting other things off your plate so you can observe. Give lots of praise and encouragement. Next, make sure both children have lots of outlets to get rid of their physical energy, so they are tired at the end of the day. Initiate a routine if you don’t have one. Children feel much happier and more secure when they know what is coming next.
Follow through on the plan
At the first signs of trouble, if you know who it is that’s caused the problem, great so you can deal with it with regards that particular child. If not, offer two warnings to see if they can work it out. If it gets physical, step in immediately, separate them and tell them that hitting and kicking is not allowed and therefore they must go to time out. Keep yourself calm and matter of fact, thereby ensuring you’re not giving them the attention they’re looking for. It doesn’t matter who started it as long as you can be sure it wasn’t a deliberate provocation by one of the children. Oftentimes it’ll just be a squabble that takes two to tango.
Put them in separate time out spots where they can’t see each other. At the end of the time out, expect an apology. After you receive it, thank them and lighten your tone. The children need to know that you have forgiven them and they are now back in your good books. The trick with this is to be consistent and do it every single time they misbehave. Most often when people tell me that time out doesn’t work for them, it’s because they have not always applied it consistently. Follow through whether you’re at the grocery store or at Granny’s house. I know it’s hard but it’s vital. They need to know that you will discipline them the same way both in public and in private. I hope this helps. Best of luck and let me know how it goes.
For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.