Letting Kids Work it Out

My twins turn four next week and my youngest is currently two and a half. Being a parent is never easy, but our house had become a war zone. It seemed like all the kids ever did was fight. Sure there were moments of laughter and sweetness among them, but the general sound we heard around here was that of children arguing.

I was at my wits' end and most days I just contributed to the fray by yelling at the kids to stop yelling. Needless to say, this was not very effective and didn't make the kids or me feel very good. My husband (a far wiser person that I) suggested we just let them work it out. This goes against everything I have ever done. Isn't my job as a mom to keep things happy and harmonious? To protect them from hurt and sadness?

Anytime I would hear the slightest sound of discord I would come swooping in and break it up. I could even determine when an argument would start based on the tone of the conversation, and I would attempt to get in there to defuse the situation before it began. I felt like a super hero who was just waiting for the call to come in and save the day. Here's the thing they don't tell you about being a super hero: it's exhausting. I felt like I was always on a state of high alert waiting for the next disaster to strike.

So back to husband's radical suggestion that we don't keep trying to break up these incidents. I was trying to think of what would happen. My youngest resorts to hitting and hair pulling when she is upset with her sisters. My older two just yell and cry. I could just see my baby terrorizing her siblings, hitting one while simultaneously yanking a chunk of the other's hair. But my husband asked me to think about what was the worse that could happen. To quote him, "she doesn't have access to a razor blade." (Please note, if your kids do have access to razor blades, this advice might not apply.)

So with some apprehension on my part, we have stopped swooping. I must confess even though I am not swooping, I am peeking behind doorways. And sure enough my little one is hitting her sisters when she gets upset. Normally when I would swoop in and pry her away, the child who was the victim would start crying and making a big scene (for my benefit perhaps?). But interestingly enough, when she hits her sisters now, they raise their voice, confront her and say "You don't hit me. NO!" Then my little terror will either yell in return or simply retreat. And it ends. No crying children. No calling for mommy. The same has occurred when the girls have only been arguing verbally.

I wish I could say letting the kids work it out has made for a lot fewer arguments around here. I haven't noticed that yet, but things definitely don't escalate or last as long as they previously did. I still keep my eyes and ears open and peek a bit, but I am feeling more confidence in the kids' ability to stand up for themselves. And even better, I know that I am raising kids who will be able to deal with sadness, disappointment and hurt. In trying to shield them from those things, I was doing them a huge disservice. I was not allowing them the opportunity to discover the strength of who they are and how they relate to others.

*You know your children best. I am in no way advocating ignoring your children or allowing them to do serious damage to each other. I am just sharing something that is working for our family. Your results may vary.



  1. Hello Vicky,
    Being a Mom of four, I understand this situation all too well with sibling fighting. I did find that letting them work out fights on their own did work well in most cases, especially when they got older. I hope that you have a wonderful {fight free} day. ;o)
    Smiles, Paula

  2. Dont you just love how our hubbys are the ones to often times offer the best advice even though we are the ones there all day. My hubby is the same way. I think often times we really try to hard as moms with somethings. My boys are 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 and we have the same problem. I too am working on trying to let them sort it out. Good luck and keep up the good work

  3. What great advice. I agree - kids need to hone the skill of solving their own problems. And you are right about giving kids opportunities to learn to cope with feelings of sadness, disappointment and hurt. And kids can give each other appropriate and consequences - such as yelling when hair is pulled. Great blog. Thanks, Renee

  4. Good advice. I should try this too! I tend to find when I don't swoop in right away that my oldest (5) will run to me and tattle on the other ones though. Any advice for that?

  5. I am trying this one out today! I am anxious to see how it works with my 3yo don who is autistic and my 1yo son who is pretty typical. I am hoping more than anything that it will teach them both to stand up for themselves and give them some more independence. I will share in my blog over the next couple of days. I just started it on Wordpress and it is tricky doing it on an iPad. I won't have pictures but you will be mentioned, tagged, and recommend!

  6. This does not work for boys. 1) Boys do not "use their words", they use their fists, legs, heads, and any other body part to get their point across...and 2) they do not pay attention to small details, like the hand-cut crystal vase that you brought back from (the former) Czechoslovakia. Add the two together, and you'd better swoop in and put a stop to it before your house looks like a war zone. (A caveat to this statement is that the boys are not necessarily angry with each other when "fighting"...this is just how they communicate.)