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growing up: preschool

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

Fighting is a normal part of childhood, albeit a frustrating one for parents. Ask any child in the middle of a dispute, "Who started this?" and the answer is sure to be "Not me!" Faced with quarreling children who are always innocent, what?s a parent to do?

Rather than getting caught up in the who, what and why of each battle, look at fighting as a learning experience for your preschooler. Disagreements are a part of life. Just like walking and talking, solving conflict is something every child must learn to do. Yet, unlike physical skills that only require physical readiness, solving conflict calls for a clear sense of right and wrong.

In the case of a preschooler whose idea of "right" means "right for me," instilling ethical behavior is a challenge. But every squabble brings an opportunity to help children discover that there are more objective standards of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Young children don?t have the self-control to refrain from fighting or the ability to settle disputes on their own. They need simple, specific guidelines for working out their arguments. Try a basic rule such as "You may disagree, but you may not hurt someone or break something." With time and your consistent reinforcement of the rule, your preschooler will learn that it?s not OK to be selfish or to bully others. This approach also teaches a lesson in consequences: When you fight, you may lose a toy, some playtime or even a friend.

It?s also important to remember that fighting and irritable behavior can be a sign that your child doesn?t feel well. When you?re sure that?s not the case, consider the following to replace fighting with more appropriate behaviors:

Watch your child play. Look for situations that are likely to provoke a fight: a certain toy, a particular game or activity, a specific playmate who generates or invites conflict. When you know a fight is likely to occur, use preventative measures: Stay in the same room, play with the children or suggest a new activity.

Give positive examples. Choose television programs and bedtime stories that show children cooperating, sharing and playing together peacefully. Preschoolers are great imitators.

Avoid comparisons. Recognize each child as a special and unique person. Statements like "Kelly is my good girl" only cause resentment and anger among Kelly?s siblings, which can fuel more fights.

Stay involved. Spend time with your child so he won?t use fighting as a way to get attention. Set aside a regular parent/ child playtime each day and at least 20 minutes of talk time before bed each night. Your child will thrive with this kind of attention.

In spite of your best efforts, there will still be fights. But by laying a foundation for children to resolve conflict when they?re young, the number and severity of their fights will lessen as they get older.

?Mel Schaut
Writer, parenting instructor

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