What to Do: When Kids Fight With Their Friends

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Kids fight. Period. Having a fall out is a normal part of friendship, be it with their siblings, classmates, or next door neighbours. Yes, it may be hurt us to watch our children experience pain when they fight with their friends, but before you lunge right in and embark on that rescue mission, remember that these are great opportunities for teaching life lessons. (We get you, though – this may take quite a bit of willpower!)

Taking a different role 

Instead of protecting our children from experiencing problems in life (or being “The Mom Who Fixes Everything”), equip them instead with the skills needed to overcome obstacles, by taking on the role as listeners, coaches, and cheerleaders. This way, our kids will be better able to develop into adults who are able to problem-solve and competently navigate the highs and lows of social relationships.

Source: The New York Times

Remember the Golden Rule

This effective strategy is outlined in the New York Times bestselling book, Whole Brain Child, as a way to help our kids deal with the emotional fallouts across the ages. Always start with empathy- deal with any big feelings first! Your child is not going to listen to you about why it’s important not to call his friend ‘stupid’ when he is still reeling in anger over being ‘uninvited’ to a party.

Empathise and name the feelings, providing a safe space for your kids to express themselves. When the emotional storm blows over, and everyone is in the right frame of mind, the ‘real’ work can begin. 

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Source: Raising Children
  • Refer to a feelings chart

We all know our tiny tots can have big fall outs with their friends too! Those kiddy tantrums over who gets the green block can give rise to overwhelming emotions. Have a feelings chart stuck up on the fridge, and refer to it anytime to name and discuss feelings to support validation and recognition. 

  • Role-play with puppets 

Role-play fights with puppets, or your child’s favourite stuffed toy. Show positive ways on how to handle disagreements, using simple words and expressive gestures. Making it relatable to kids in this fun way will create positive memories on how best to deal with fall outs! 

  • No-go zone

Stop stop stop, it’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not not not okay to hurt someone. This cute little jingle by a wonderful social-emotional TV program for preschoolers called Daniel Tiger, sums up a foundational friendship rule. Bursting into this jingle is also a great strategy if you catch your preschooler about to react in a physical manner! 

  • Don’t treat your child like a victim

Doing so may lead to your child learning to think of themselves as victims. When children take on a victim mentality, it becomes a form of defiance, used to avoid being held accountable and taking appropriate responsibility. This, of course, applies purely to the normal range of (innocent) fall outs with friends.  As they get older, do be aware of the signs of any bullying taking place, and take immediate actions to address this very serious situation. 

Primary School-Aged Kids

Source: Nowwireless
  • Teach problem-solving techniques

Teach conflict-resolution mechanisms so our older kids have go-to strategies they can easily employ when experiencing a fall out with friends. Introduce these strategies by walking through the steps together, with the goal that they will be able to process these steps independently. Practice makes perfect!

Red: Take deep breaths and think of something calming 

Yellow: Evaluate the problem. Can you handle this on your own? Do you need adult help? Brainstorm ideas with consequences in mind.

Green: Choose a strategy and go for it!

The fundamental steps of problem-solving, known by therapists as ABCD, is super easy for primary school-aged kids to remember.

A: Ask, “What is the problem?”

B: Brainstorm solutions

C: Choose a solution to try

D: Do it! 

  • Teach them to empathise with other kids

There are many fun ways to foster perspective-taking skills, so our kids are able to understand the other side of the story (after calming down, of course). This helps them to communicate with their peers in a more productive manner, post-disagreement. Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions, and to own up to their own negative behaviours. 

  • Help your child to understand what they can (and cannot) control

This is a trickier one, with even adults struggle with control issues! When your hurt and bewildered child comes to you with a friendship problem, it’s a good time to gently introduce the idea of control- that some things are simply not within our control, and that the only person we can control is ourselves. 

Here are some questions that you can use as a discussion, to show your child that they can only control their own actions and responses, and not anyone else’s: 

Can you control…

  • What your friend says?
  • Who your friend wants to play with today?
  • Whether you say something nice, or nasty?

And very importantly:

  • Why don’t we work on some other things that you do have power over, and that you might be able to do instead?


Source: Unsplash
  • Show faith in your child

What better way for your tween to learn to have faith in themselves? The tween years invariably give rise to a more complicated set of friendship problems. Show your tween that you trust them to handle whatever situation they find themselves in (either by reaching out for help, or attempting to deal with friend fall outs by themselves). We guarantee the space you give will be very much appreciated! 

  • Help your child speak up appropriately

Being assertive and trying to resolve a conflict often requires a careful choice of words – something that is easier for older kids to mindfully construct. Model this through the use of  “I” statements (rather than “You” statements) which may sound accusatory. For example: “You left me out,” can be replaced by “I am upset, because I wasn’t included in the game” instead. 

The challenge often lies in figuring out when to step in, what level of support to offer, and when to stay out of  fall outs altogether. And that’s the beauty and fun of parenting- we try, we fail, we learn and we slowly figure out what works best for each of us!

Enjoy the process, #makchicmumtribe!

Elaine is a mummy of two who moved from the financial world to become an early childhood educator. She loves travelling, books and her cup of tea to unwind after a long day of diapers, school runs and pretend play.