You should let your children fight

From: Klaus Schüttler-Janikulla (ed.): Manual for educators in crèches, kindergartens, preschools and after-school care centers. Reissue. Munich: mvg-verlag, 30th delivery 1999

Child quarrel

Margarete Blank-Mathieu

1. Children's quarrels can be observed everywhere in everyday life

"Help, my children argue all day" is a widely heard statement from stressed parents. Even educators know a thing or two about how often they are forced to intervene in children's disputes. In doing so, they believe that the most important thing children should do is learn to express their needs in a peaceful manner.

And children are becoming more and more aggressive, even in quarreling situations. One already speaks of "violence" in kindergarten. The aggressive boys in particular cause problems for educators. They don't know how to deal with child fights. Should they trust that the children will not bang their heads in and stop arguing on their own, should they settle disputes and separate the fighting cocks, should they suggest solutions to the children and prevent arguments from arising in the first place?

People are social beings, this view is widespread. We live together and hardly anyone is happy if they have no friends. Children need friendships, they need other children to play with, they need adult attention, they cannot live alone. And yet there is constant quarrel and quarrel, which is not infrequently carried out with hands and feet.

2. Children express their needs in a "quarreling" manner

Little children have no words to express their needs. Babies cry to make themselves heard. They knock the bottle out of their mother's hand when they are not hungry, they push away strangers who come too close to them. One could say that even small children express their needs in "physical arguments".

For two-year-olds, the quarrel over toys is the most common cause of the argument. They push and kick at the child who gets too close to their toys, they box at other children and they pull their hair. They try to make themselves noticeable with words and angry screams. Children express their needs and desires with their whole body.

They argue because they want to be accepted

The people who belong to them want to have all children to themselves first. If another child, also a sibling, approaches the loved one, they try to push him away. When the mother takes the smaller sibling on her lap, the older child hits the mother or the baby. Many children express the wish that the little sibling should be given away or be dead - that they themselves should become the focus of the loved one's interest again.

In kindergarten especially only children are often very fixated on the educators. They try to "conquer" it for themselves and enter into competitive battles with other children who approach the teacher. It takes a while to learn that the teacher is there for all children equally and that they can only claim part of the care.

They argue because they need self-affirmation

Children not only want to be accepted, they also need confirmation that they are being taken seriously as their own personality. When they feel hungry, they want something to eat, even when everyone else is doing handicrafts; when they want to play, they ask for toys, even if another child is playing with them. This leads to an argument with other children, an argument with mother and father and the teacher. Children try to prevent other children from playing along when they want to play alone with their boyfriend or girlfriend. They push them out of the dolls' corner or say that they are not allowed to play. They want to represent their own personality and enforce their own wishes. They are self-centered and want to find their own personality confirmed with all their needs.

They argue because they need recognition

And children need more than just reassurance that their needs are being understood. They want to be praised and recognized. When other children are praised, they push them aside, destroy their pictures or structures in order to better bring out their own. They want not only them but also what they have done to be recognized. If you have the feeling that you are not being paid enough attention to, you rush through the building corner and knock everything over. Or they take a pen and scribble the picture of the neighbor they just painted. They destroy the competitor's sand castle and tear up the paper mask of the woman next to them. Your own works should be taken into account, they want to challenge adult recognition and are often not squeamish when choosing the means.

3. Children want to be noticed

Children often argue because they cannot make themselves felt in any other way. Especially children who have difficulty expressing their needs verbally and who are also shy try to make themselves noticeable through arguments. Special strategies are necessary in the children's group in order to be perceived as an individual by the educator. And no child wants to "perish" in a group. Children who feel that they have not been noticed argue in the foreground. "Children who have difficulties create difficulties" is a piece of wisdom that educators should also bear in mind when there is a dispute.

Being part of a group is important

Although each group consists of many individuals, each child must first secure a place in the group. When a child is new to kindergarten, each group member already has a fixed role within the children's group. There are solid friendships, loose play communities and outsiders who have either been excluded from the group or keep isolating themselves. There is also sympathy and antipathy between the children.

It is now a matter of acquiring a place in the group. This can be done by having a larger child from the group turn to the newcomer and introduce them to the group. Often this can only be achieved through children's quarrels. It is often a long process of arguing and negotiation before the new child is allowed to play.

Recognition in the group must be fought for

If a child wants to be accepted as a group member, they must try to be accepted by the group. You can gain recognition by pushing other group members to the side. "He's stupid" or "look how weird Sandra looks" can be remarks that are used to establish oneself within the group. In many cases, fists are used to fight for a place within the group.

You can make yourself popular with special toys. When such toys are brought from home, there are often arguments. Who is allowed to play with the coveted pawn, who tries to destroy it, who hides it to annoy the owner? The children's group is usually divided into several subgroups. Girls have their own group that is important to them, and the boys group is especially important for boys. Small boys are often temporarily integrated into the girls' group. But as soon as they behave "too" boyishly, they are expelled by this. Then at the latest the struggle to get a place in the boys' group begins.

The position within the group must be secured

Each group has its own structure. There are leaders and followers, there are those who secure their position, others who dispute them, and some who try to redistribute their positions. Even in a seemingly calm, harmonious group of children, these rank fights take place in secret. Such redistributions are particularly noticeable when children are newly admitted to the group or the older ones are released from school. It rarely goes off without a tangible noise.

Who determines what is built in the building corner, who specifies which role-plays are played, who takes care of the children who are excluded or who are on the sidelines? Depending on their temperament and their own wishes, children want to secure a place within a group. And there is always competition. This must be switched off, possibly with your hands and feet. Building blocks are well suited as projectiles and secretly pushing against sharp furniture edges is also a good way of showing the competitor who is in power here. Many "oversights" are well-planned enforcement strategies.

Children want to be perceived as independent personalities

Not only the group position is to be fought for. The teacher and the other children should also see the independence of each child. For example, children attach great importance to their name. They put their own insignia on their pictures and make sure that their names are spelled correctly. Their property must be respected, they insist that only those children are allowed to touch their personal things that they themselves determine. So it comes to quarrels about the participation in the Vesperbrot, which one only shares with the boyfriend or girlfriend, about the distribution of fruit and sweets. Who gets something from the birthday cake, who is allowed to sit at the table at the birthday party?

Children can be injured if their property is attacked. This is how slippers are hidden, the Vesper bag is quickly thrown between the bushes, the hat is sunk in the toilet. There are many ways to tease an unloved child. By hurting the other child's personality, you can bring out your own better. And often through such actions one also wins the recognition of the group.

Children have individual needs

Children need attention at different times. They have different needs for action, for rest, for opportunities to play. These different needs are difficult to meet in everyday kindergarten life. The play room cannot be used by everyone at the same time, there are more children in the cozy corner than there is space, and all children want to take part in the parlor game with the teacher at the same time.

Situations constantly arise in which children are supposed to put their needs aside and others are preferred. It doesn't go off without a fight. Why is Tobias allowed into the workroom and I have to wait, why do the big boys disturb the girls in the cozy corner, why did Max eat my lunch break and now I have nothing left to eat? There is secretly pushed, pushed aside, pushed and vengeance is taken. There is always an open fight between individual children or entire groups of children because the individual needs of children have not been taken into account.

Children want to be perceived as "special" people

Every child has special talents and days on which they want to show what they have done well. It knows, for example, that it has put a lot of effort into painting today. So it wants to be particularly praised for its picture. Or it wants to be recognized for having set the table particularly nicely or for being particularly diligent in tidying up today. A kindergarten teacher often cannot recognize such special situations and wonders why children suddenly start arguing.

Children's disputes can arise because children want to show their specialty and want to get confirmation for it. This can also lead to arguments within the children's group if a child wants to implement their special ideas and wants to emphasize them in front of the others.

Children also need special attention and often fight for it. If the educator pays attention to what is important to children and what there is to "admire" in them, she can help avoid some arguments.

Children want to be loved

Children want to be loved for their own sake not only in the family, but also in kindergarten. The teacher should take the child on her lap, play a game with him, and praise him in front of everyone else. The other children should recognize it in its peculiarity; it wants a friend of its own or a special friend who shows it that it is loved and admired.

There are always disputes within the group about the friendship of individual children. If I can win the leader as a friend, then I will also be loved myself - I can assert myself in front of the other children, I am sought after as a playmate myself and I am repeatedly confirmed that I am loved and respected.

Children also secure the love of other children through the distribution of material goods. They bring gifts and try to make themselves popular. It can lead to real "wars" between individual children who can "bribe" the other children better.

Especially children who cannot assert themselves because of a pleasant nature or special talents try in this way to gain love and respect from others. This also applies if a child constantly gives gifts to the educator.

4. What is child quarrel necessary for?

In my opinion, the question of whether children's quarrel is even necessary no longer arises from what has been said above. Many parents and educators believe that it is a worthy goal to avoid child disputes as much as possible or to be able to prevent it entirely. In arguing situations, however, the children can gain important experiences for them.

Since child strife has many causes, it must be taken seriously in each case and perceived as an expression of certain needs.

Differentiation from other children

Children need to be differentiated from other children. They have to conquer their own space, define their limits. In arguing situations, they show what they don't want and what they are not ready for. You need your own space, your own leeway, your own friendships. They fight for a place in the boys 'or girls' group and demarcate their territory by excluding other children, not wanting to play with some, not wanting to be pushed into play situations together. They want to defend their own character by making distinctions from other children.

Assertion of one's own interests

Children's quarrels arise when situations prevent one's own interests from being asserted. If a child is engrossed in the game and does not feel like tidying up, it leads to arguments with the teacher and other children. If a child wants to play in the building corner and is sent away by the other children, a conflict arises. There can also be arguments when two children claim the same toy at the same time. It is necessary that a child learns to formulate its own needs and to enforce them. Often this does not go off without an argument.

Draw attention to yourself

There are children who can only draw attention to themselves by disturbing them. They try to provoke conflicts so that the educator will take care of them. Children who suddenly start crying, apparently for no reason, because the woman next to them has taken one of five identical red pencils away that you want to have yourself, show that they are less concerned with this red pencil than with the attention of those around them. Much quarrel arises from the fact that children want to show that they are there, that they have to draw attention to themselves because they would otherwise feel ignored or taken too little seriously.

Formulate disadvantages

It is often not possible for children to express the feeling of being disadvantaged in words. The smaller the children are, the more they will quarrel with others who they think are preferred to them when they feel or are actually disadvantaged. Often the only thing that helps is to push away, to push forward, to make the other person bad, to tear the toys out of his hand, to destroy his buildings.

Children must be given the opportunity to express their apparent or actual disadvantage in other ways than arguing. But we also have to admit that they fight against disadvantage and do not come to terms with it.

To be able to measure your strength

Sometimes we adults perceive arguing situations that in reality are not at all. Often it is just a showdown that takes place. It can be an argument in which children try to outdo each other, make the better claims, get into even more imaginative images. Whole fantasy stories emerge in which children outdo each other with increasingly fantastic ideas. It is often based on a television story, or claims are made from reality that are completely unfounded."My brother has ...", that is how it might begin, and the other child has a cousin who is even stronger, an uncle who has traveled even further, an experience that was even more terrible.

"Fights" arise in a corner of the garden. Boys measure their strength, and the slightest cause is enough to prove to others that you are stronger. But often such a trial of strength also turns into serious seriousness. It is not easy to decide whether it is already a dispute that threatens to escalate or a harmless test of strength.

Acquire self-affirmation and assertiveness

In a dispute, you can ask for confirmation from your own person. The child shows that it can defend itself, that it is not ready to stand back. It can be seen as a winner. This is an important step on the path to self-affirmation. Every child must also be able to experience themselves as a winner. It must learn to assert itself against others, it must not always back off. Children need situations in which they can grapple with others and highlight their abilities in order to assert their own position. They have to experience themselves as powerful and assertive, they have to feel that despite their small size and powerlessness they find ways to assert themselves against adults. A lot of negotiation is necessary for this, which often does not go off without a dispute.

Get frustration tolerance

But the other thing also needs to be learned: being able to lose. Most children are bad losers. But is it different for adults? Winning is always accompanied by a better feeling than losing. But there cannot always be winners. Life is full of failure. A child experiences this every day. It cannot always eat when it is hungry, it does not always have peace and quiet when it would like to be alone, it cannot romp around everywhere. It is constantly admonished, educated, criticized - a miracle when a child learns to develop self-confidence in the process!

The more a child learns to assert itself, the more often it is successful with it, the more it feels loved and the more independently it finds its way in its environment, the more likely it will learn - instead of giving up - a tolerance of frustration that will help it with unpleasant situations to get by.

A child who can lose is no longer so vulnerable. It can then also have new experiences. Another time it will win! When he is aware of this, he can learn to live with frustration. Today Felix had to wait a long time until he was picked up while playing by the teacher. He quarreled with his best friend about it. Tomorrow he will make up again. He will then also say that this time he has to be the first to answer.

Being able to lose is so closely related to success and winning. The two are inextricably linked and can often only be achieved through arguments and negotiations.

5. How should educators deal with children's disputes?

Isn't it the task of every educator to direct children's disputes in such a way that the needs of children come into their own? Does she have to intervene or should she wait? What experiences do children have to have and which ones does the educator have to protect them from?

Children have to fight, even if it is difficult for the educator to endure or the group suffers. Child quarrel is important. This knowledge helps an educator to deal with it appropriately.

What goals can the kindergarten set itself with regard to children's quarrels?

Need for social development

  • Children have to learn to assert themselves in a group.
  • You have to assert yourself and be able to withdraw.
  • They can learn to formulate their needs.
  • You can get recognition.
  • Children have to fight for a place in the group and defend it.
  • You can take sides or withdraw in a dispute.
  • You learn to lose and you are also allowed to gain the experience.
  • The formulation of your own wishes towards the group and the educator can be learned according to the situation.
  • Perseverance can also be tested in the event of a conflict.
  • Children can experience themselves as an acting person within a group and feel that they are making an impact.

Need to develop self-competence

  • A child learns to find out what they enjoy and what they don't like to do.
  • It can test its own abilities and assert itself against another child.
  • It learns to look at things from different angles.
  • It can achieve a goal it has set for itself.
  • It learns to cope with failures.
  • Perseverance and conflict resolution options can be learned.
  • It learns to cope with fears, to ward off attacks on itself, to deal with disappointments.

Necessity for everyday structure and understanding of rules

  • In negotiation situations, a child can learn to accept a daily structure.
  • It can experience itself as someone who can influence the daily routine and in other cases adapts to the given structure.
  • In conflict situations, new rules can be tried out and old ones abolished.
  • Children can formulate and enforce their own needs within a given structure.
  • Participation processes can be demanded from children.
  • Children can experience themselves as competent in their own area of ​​life.

Educators who have recognized these needs are better able to deal with conflict situations between the children and within the group of children. You don't have to try to settle every argument, you don't have to evaluate arguments as something negative. However, they cannot simply ignore conflict situations.

Observe quarreling situations

Educators will first observe conflict situations and follow the development of the children's disputes. They try to get an idea of ​​why the argument arose and what challenge the children are faced with. The children should feel unobserved and be allowed to try out their own strategies.

Educators can ask themselves what children can learn from this argument and what is important for children in it. She should also consider whether children express needs in quarreling situations that are neglected in everyday kindergarten life. Do you have to create other framework conditions yourself, are support measures necessary for individual children or the group of children?

In the case of conflicts that recur, it is important for the educator to decide whether children will cope with these conflicts on their own or whether they need help from adults. A child may be made a "black sheep" within the group - they cannot allow that. Children who cannot cope with conflict situations, who suffer from it, whose problems they may have are aggravated, need help. Often, watching and letting go is not enough educationally.

Bringing up arguments together with children and developing coping strategies

If the educator notices that conflicts are not being resolved, children are being suppressed, problems are raised which are related to her educational task or which can be avoided by some other structure, she has to speak to the quarreling children. Since it is often a question of quarrels that not only take place between individual children, but also stress the whole group, it is certainly good to openly address the conflicts in the group.

Conflicts that arose out of personal motives (e.g. xenophobia of children) are sample stories and picture book viewing a way to draw attention to a problem. If such conflicts can be viewed separately from personal relationship patterns, then children can develop their own problem awareness. You will be addressed as competent people and learn to understand connections and take a stand.

Many problems that lead to arguments in everyday kindergarten life are packed in picture book stories. Educators should use such stories to help arouse understanding for children from other backgrounds and cultures. Problems between boys and girls, between adults and children, between strong and weak children, between different "child gangs" are discussed in these books.

And children are quite ready to pick up on such things from their everyday life and to develop ideas and validation strategies for them. If they are included in the considerations themselves, instead of simply forbidding them to have these "unnecessary" arguments, permanent possible solutions will arise which will find a satisfactory end for all parties.

Intervene in a dispute

Violent disputes must be ended immediately. When stronger children attack weaker ones, snatch something out of their hands, hit them with objects or throw them at them, the teacher has to end the argument. However, this should not be done without discussing it with the children afterwards. Surely there was a reason the argument escalated.

If children can only assert themselves in a tangible way, new strategies must be negotiated with them so that they learn to assert themselves in other ways and to represent their wishes. Even with children there are irascible ones who always "freak out".

You can also learn to argue. For this purpose, the children's group can be a practice field. The kindergarten teacher will have to provide support and every now and then have to end an argument that the children themselves cannot end appropriately.

Develop positions together with parents

If it is about irascible children or outbursts of temper that lead to arguments again and again, when a child cannot defend themselves and repeatedly seeks protection from the educator, this is a good opportunity to talk to parents about arguments among children to lead.

Parents themselves often complain about sibling quarrels. They know how difficult it is to endure such situations and how little children care about the argument. Today they fight bitterly and tomorrow they are best friends.

Parents forbid their children to continue playing with a brawler, thereby depriving the children of the opportunity to decide for themselves which playmates are necessary for them and what is important to them in the argument.

Parents' evenings on the subject of children's disputes would be a good introduction to the subject. Individual children are not labeled as ruffians, others are not suspected of being unable to defend themselves.

There is a lot of helpful literature that can be used as a basis for discussion in preparation for such parenting evenings. Parents and educators can talk about quarreling situations, discuss different positions, think about when to intervene in children's disputes and why.

Children are given rules of conduct in their parents' home on how they should behave in a dispute. These are often different from the concept used in kindergarten. As a result, children become insecure and cannot have new experiences or try out different strategies. They do not acquire the necessary self-confidence to assert themselves and to be able to stand back. But this is the main goal that should be set for any dispute.

If a child acquires new skills for himself through arguing, and can have new experiences, arguing is an important element of personality development. But if it is weakened, blunted and devalued by a dispute, the dispute must be ended as soon as possible.

Arguing is part of everyday life as a child a important opportunity to experience one's own abilities and limits. It must not be blocked. Together with parents, the facility can develop concepts of how children can be offered support and opportunities to help in conflict situations without rejecting them in their own way and educating them to follow suit.

Children who know what they want must be able to assert themselves through arguing and, in order to find out what they want, they must also be able to argue.

At first, dispute must not be interpreted negatively. It is a necessary part of the development of children. It serves for personal development and further development into adulthood. But arguing has to be learned to a certain extent. For this we have to offer the children a platform in everyday kindergarten life. In this way, disputes become processes of negotiation by which the children can measure and compare their strengths without having to aggressively enforce their wishes.

As adults, we are always a role model that the children portray in conflict situations. How do we deal with difficult situations? Do we want to enforce our will with "power", are we ready to listen to the other person and their arguments, and do we try to find a common solution? Children watch the educators in the kindergarten. You see how parents approach educators and hear when they talk about educators.

As "role models" we are also repeatedly called upon to question our own behavior and to work together with the parents. How the children's quarrel goes depends not least on our "model function".

6. Literature

Bates, Ames L .: But it started, Munich 1986

Blank-Mathieu, M .: Always something special: The importance of childhood friendship and children's disputes for identity development. In: TPS 4/1996

Bleckmann, R .: Social behavior in kindergarten, Freiburg 1984

Deißler, H.H: Friendship among children. In: Kindergarten today 2/1996

Faber, Adele / Mazlish, Elaine: Help, my children argue, Droemer Knaur 1988

Endres, Wolfgang: Siblings, they like to argue, Beltz 1984

Salomé, Jaques: I'll say what I mean, Ravensburger 1994

Redl, Fritz / Wineman, David: Control of aggressive behavior in children, Munich 1978