Fights Between Children: When and How to Intervene?

There are situations in fights between children in which we shouldn't hesitate to intervene, such as when violence is involved. In other cases, the situation must be analyzed.
Fights Between Children: When and How to Intervene?
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 12 October, 2022

Juan is at home with his children and begins to hear them fighting over a toy. Internally, some alarm bells go off: Do I intervene or not? Some theories will say that it’s better to continue watching the conflict from afar, while others will encourage taking an active role. In this article, we’ll tell you how and when to intervene in fights between children.

However, before positioning yourself in one place or the other, there’s one key thing to keep in mind: There’s no universal truth. Rather, each situation requires us to observe, analyze, and decide. After all, that’s our role as adults.

You may be interested in: How to Help Your Children Not to Fight

When and how to intervene in children’s fights

When faced with a fight between children, we often don’t know how to react. Do we let them resolve their issues on their own or should we intervene? This is a question very frequently asked by adults and caregivers. Although you might have been hoping for one, we must say that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but rather some nuances should be taken into account. While there’s research that suggests not intervening, we must think about the fact that not all circumstances are the same, so each situation will require its own solution. Let’s take a closer look.

Many times, the doubt about intervening -or not- in fights between children has to do with that little inner voice of overprotection. However, here we must be especially careful not to confuse protection with abandonment. That’s why it’s important to analyze the situation and follow it closely. That is, monitor whether it’s escalating or not.

Two boys fighting aggressively.
When violence is involved in a fight between children, the situation must be stopped and limits must be established, but not in an aggressive way.

When to intervene in the conflict

For example, a simple fight between siblings who want to play with the same toy isn’t the same as when the situation escalates and ends in insults and blows. In the latter case, we shouldn’t hesitate to put a stop to the conflict and establish clear limits: “In this house, we don’t solve problems with violence”.

Now, in the first case, if they can’t reach an agreement and one of the children comes to us and accuses their sibling of not wanting to share their things, we can intervene and help both of them to put an end to the fight. It’s best to think of a way to resolve the conflict and benefit both of them. In both cases, we’ll have to take into account their ages and adjust to their ability to understand and compromise.

In what situations MUST we intervene?

We shouldn’t hesitate to intervene when we see that there’s a situation of asymmetry and inequality that exceeds the real possibilities of a child to defend themself. For example, when there are several against one, when there’s recurrent teasing, or when there’s aggression, among others.

How to intervene in fights between children

However, intervention can’t be done in any old way. It’s important to take into account certain considerations. We’ll tell you about them below.

Knowing the causes of the conflict

First of all, it’s important to know why the kids are fighting. Don’t assume, but listen to the children and understand what triggered the conflict. It’s not about asking “who started it” to look for a culprit but understanding what’s going on.

Avoid being aggressive

In any intervention we do with children, we must be an example. That’s to say, if we get involved in a situation where we seek to put an end to aggressiveness and violence, we can’t do so by being aggressive or violent.

A man talking to a child that's gotten into a fight.
Adults should seek dialogue with children and with each other. Instead of scolding and punishments, the best thing to do is to explain to them why they shouldn’t fight and help them find a solution to the conflict.

We should seek dialogue, stand firm, and explain why they shouldn’t fight. At the same time, we must help children find a solution to the conflict by acting as mediators. This doesn’t mean that we’ll solve the problem ourselves, but that we’ll provide time, space, and effort so that they can see how to do it. When we’re the ones who give them the solution, the message we inadvertently teach them is that they need others to solve their problems.

Transmit values

It’s very important that we can transmit values such as respect, patience, and dialogue. In other words, our intervention requires us to leave certain teaching behind. It’s about children being able to find healthy ways to discuss and establish agreements. Thinking differently doesn’t have to end in a fight. Working on this idea with them gives them a key for the future.

Being aware of our own ideas about fights between children

As is the case with any parenting issue, it’s very important to know ourselves as adults in order to identify what issues are ours and those that belong to our children themselves. Many times, our own educational models and experiences prevent us from thinking of other alternatives and we simply act out of inertia.

If we believe that by letting them cry or manage on their own we’re making them strong, it’s possible that our automatic response will always be not to intervene. Here we run the risk of achieving the opposite of what we expect. Our children may end up feeling alone, unprotected, insecure, and think they can’t count on us.

That’s why parenting can’t happen on autopilot. As adults, we must be able to know when and how to intervene according to what children need. We need to be able to adapt to the situation and the age of the children. In some cases, it’s pretentious to expect them to solve their problems by themselves, but in others, we need to give them the space to do so.

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