Having clear family rules about fighting that hurts is important. A good place to set these rules is at a family meeting. Family meetings model communication with words, not fists. Working out problems through talking rather than physical fighting is supported by brain research that indicates if we can learn to put very strong feelings into words, the brain’s more primitive rage system will naturally be inhibited.
To visually support everyone’s opportunity to speak at a family meeting, you can provide a stuffed animal to be held by the person speaking. When it is a specific family member’s turn to speak, he or she can hold the stuffed animal, indicating that others need to listen without interrupting. If children are too young to really discuss ideas, you can offer solutions after listening to what they want and need to say.
Specific to the topic of fighting, here are a few family rules that could be shared during one of your family meetings:
- We have no tolerance in this home for any fighting that hurts.
- Play fighting means that those involved agree the fighting is just play, and they enjoy the play.
- If you are fighting over a toy, it will be put away until those involved find a way to share it safely.
- If you are so angry you feel like hitting someone, you will go get help with your feelings from a grown-up.
- Name-calling is not allowed. If you need to find a better way to tell your sibling what you want him or her to do differently, you will go to a grown-up for help.
If children are hurting others, they need to be stopped. They also need protection from being hurt by others. We want children to learn to resolve their own differences, but some situations are so full of emotion that children need a parent to help. It will be easier to help your children learn how to put feelings into words “in the moment” when they have first been discussed at a family meeting. Family meetings are a good place to start modeling verbal—rather than physical—communication.