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How important is making up after a fight and what are the do's and dont's?

My child has recurring fights, verbal and physical, with other children in our street. Most of the children will fight sometimes. They are 8 to 12 years old. I should add that the fights are not about something, one or more kids will just start to provoke another kid and it escalates into a fight. There are bruises, sometimes blood and i heard one time a kid knocked out another kid, but i cannot confirm (my child was not present).

My first goal is to prevent at least the physical fights. Especially since the fights are just for the sake of fights. My child developed a mostly succesful strategy of just leaving when the provocation starts, but it is not 100% foolproof. The other night i told him to go back out and that his friend was only joking, only for it to end in a fistfight.

After a fight, within hours, a day or a few days, the children will play and be friends again as if nothing happened. My gut tells me this is not ok. In my eyes this 'normalises' the physical violence and verbal abuse.

In the heat of the moment it is not possible to talk to any of the kids. What timeframe is there to making up? Should it happen within two days or not at all? A week maybe?

Should I get all the kids? Leave out the bystanders (who may have played a part by cheering)? Should I proceed if for example only two of the 3 participants are available or willing? Is letting every kid just speak and tell what they think happened a good strategy?

Edit: the location is the Netherlands, physical fights among adults are definitely not common and are frowned upon. The parents of the other kids will tell their children off for fighting or swearing, and are not happy about the violence either. It may just be the case that i'm being too nice, and my reaction to the fights should be faster and more severe, as in every time there is a fight, a parent of every kid involved should be called to come collect their kid?

This is a followup to: Handling bullying in neigbourhood playgroup

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    This might be a cultural thing. As a white middle class American I never had fights with friends growing up. We might argue and say "I'm not going to be your friend any more", which would last 30 minutes, and we might get physical in the context of games/sports like playing tackle football, but I never got into any physical fights. Can you provide any more details about the culture of the area? Is it a more "hold your own" culture, do adults fight with each other too, etc? Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:57
  • I know this is a new question, but from your previous question, it appears that things have escalated. Did you ever speak to the group? If you did, how was it received? If you did something different, what was that? It helps to get a handle on the past approaches. Thanks. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 21:54
  • @RobinClower I have added location and culture, I have never been in a fight myself but maybe that is because I'm female.
    – Ivana
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:48
  • @anongoodnurse well spotted, it is a followup question. During and immediately after the fight tempers flare and it seems impossible to have a conversation. So my goal now is to have the conversation some time after the fight. I will link the previous question.
    – Ivana
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:51

1 Answer 1

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+100

You have already noticed, correctly, that you will not be able to reason with them in the middle of a fight. We all have limited access to our higher executive functions during a state of elevated arousal.

Any effective intervention takes place between such interactions. As psychologist Jesper Juul famously said, you should "strike while the iron is cold."

In the high arousal phase, or the chaos phase, when you cannot reason with the children, there are other techniques to employ. I don't have the science at hand, but an often cited fact by some psychologists in Sweden is that intervening at this point greatly increases the risk that someone will get physically hurt, either you or the aggressor. If you don't have to intervene at this point, the safest thing is not to. But sometimes, of course, you do have to intervene. If someone is at risk of getting hurt without intervention, you may be morally obliged to intervene. If you do, you should take care to escalate arousal (and consequently, risk) as little as possible. There are science based techniques for this, such as the Studio 3 approach, which teaches techniques such as you should never counter a hit with direct oppositional force, but grab the punching hand and go with it in the direction it was going, and only gently nudge it away from its intended target.

It is also usually safer and easier to bring the victim into safety, than to remove the aggressor, never mind what you might consider the "fair" course of action.

Once the situation has cooled down, yes, I absolutely think letting every kid speak is a good strategy. In an ordered fashion. Make it clear that you are going to hear each and every one of them, and that they don't need to interrupt and correct one another. Just calmly reassure "I'm going to hear your version as well". And when one kid is speaking, mirror their phrases. Just reflect back to them what they've just said. This nudges them to elaborate without actively steering the discussion one way or another. As best you can, you avoid contaminating their story with your own judgment in this way.

Once everybody has had their say, you can summarize the most important points, in a way that everybody feels heard. "Ok, so you really wanted X; But at the same time you were doing Y. And when Z said this, you interpreted that as that", etc.

If this is how you resolve conflict, you are also role modelling how they might. Very often, I've found that the conflict is cut short even before I've had the time to hear everyone out. When I listen to what person A says, the others will to, and once I help them talk their issue out calmly, the rest of the group will usually be ahead of me and know of a solution that will meet everybody's needs. So when I would naturally turn to person B, they've already jumped to conclusions and solved their conflict.

This is effective and children will pick up effective conflict resolution. I've seen it happen several times.

You also seem concerned that they don't hold grudges; that this would be normalizing the physical violence. I don't have any science to back that up one way or the other, but from experience, kids generally aren't as resentful, and don't hold grudges for that long, compared to most adults, and on a personal note, I think that it is the other way around - us adults who have something to learn from our children here.

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