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How Parents Can Stop Kids' Fighting

Teach Kids to Be Peaceful When Provoked, Researchers Say
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 10, 2006 -- When children are pushed, hit, or angered by other kids, they're less likely to fight if they think their parents disapprove of fighting, a new study shows.

The study, published in Pediatrics, focuses on physical fighting. It includes this advice:

  • Parents should model nonviolent attitudes and behaviors, since kids often copy parents.
  • Parents should communicate with their kids about handling conflicts nonviolently.

One in three U.S. high school students report having been in a physical fight, according to 2003 CDC statistics cited by the researchers. They included Sally-Ann Ohene, MD, MPH, of the University of Minnesota's division of general pediatrics and adolescent health.

What Would My Parents Say?

Ohene's study included 134 pediatric patients and their parents from several urban and suburban clinics in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The researchers interviewed participants by phone.

The kids, who were 10 years old to 15 years old, were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements like this:

  • "When actions of others make me angry, I can usually deal with it without getting into a physical fight."
  • "The best way to stop a fight before it starts is to stop the argument (problem) that caused it."
  • "If a person pushes or hits me, it would make me mad enough to fight."
  • "My family would be mad at me if I got into a fight with another student no matter what the reason."
  • "If a student hits me first, my family would want me to hit them back."

The students couldn't say "kind of" or "it depends." They could only agree or disagree.

The researchers considered children to be more likely to fight when provoked if kids agreed that being pushed or hit would make them mad enough to fight. Kids were less likely to fall into that group if they thought their family disapproved of fighting, Ohene's team found.

What Would My Child Do?

A topic asked of the parents -- mostly the kids' moms -- included when it was OK for their child to fight back.

"Almost 40% of the parents said they would tell their child it was OK to hit if he or she was pushed or hit by another person," the researchers write.

But what really mattered was what the kids thought their parents thought. If a child wrongly thought their parents disapproved of fighting, they were more likely to not fight back. Parents' actual views didn't make a difference.

"It may be that many parents do not discuss these expectations with their children," Ohene and colleagues write. "As a result, children may be guided by what they perceive to be their parents' expectations on the use of violence rather than what the parents actually condone."

"Parents therefore need to recognize the importance of clearly stating to their child what the child should do when faced with potential conflict," the researchers continue.

Some parents may think that telling children to fight back when provoked will help the child stay safe, Ohene's team notes. However, the researchers call for parents to teach -- and practice -- nonviolence instead.

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