Why fighting your children’s battles can do more harm

Those mama bear instincts are strong! Resist jumping in too soon so that your child learns how to develop resilience, confidence, and important social skills. Here are 5 ways to support your child instead…

two sisters not talking

There is nothing worse than seeing your child be teased or pushed or excluded by another child. It is completely understandable to want to rush in and save them.

After all, we are programmed to protect them. It’s even more than that though. When we see our own child in a tough social situation, it triggers our own memories of being teased or getting in a fight with a friend. Who wouldn’t want to protect their child from these distressing feelings?

But rushing in too soon can prevent our children from developing their own social skills. It can also send the message that we lack confidence in our child’s ability to handle it, that they aren’t capable.

So should we simply stand by and watch the situation unfold? Not necessarily…

Here are five strategies to help you coach your child’s interactions without taking over.


  1. The Stoplight System


The stoplight system is a simple method for assessing a situation to determine whether or not you need to step in. Observe that’s happening and decide if the situation is:

  • Green: No need to interfere. For example, another child took your child’s bucket but your child has moved on and doesn’t seem to care.
  • Yellow: The situation isn’t serious but you may need to step in if it escalates. Keep observing and casually move closer.
  • Red: You need to step in immediately to protect your child. For example, one child is hitting another.

The specifics of what you consider a green light, yellow light, and red light situation are very individual. The point is to quickly assess the situation so that your instincts don’t kick in before your child has a chance to handle the situation on their own.


  1. ‘Sportscasting’


Coined by infant specialist Magda Gerber, sportscasting is a technique frequently used in Montessori schools to help children notice what’s happening without the adult instructing them on what to do.

For example, two children are playing in the sandbox and one knocks over the other’s sandcastle. You might say, “Jack, you built a sandcastle and Sam knocked it over. You both want that new shovel. I wonder what you could do.”

When using sportscasting, it’ll be tempting to take sides in order to try and solve the problem, so try to stay as neutral as possible. When we do this though, the children are rarely satisfied with our solution and they lose the opportunity to work things out for themselves.

Sportscasting helps children recognize what’s happening and tells them that we’re there to support so they can solve the problem on their own.


  1. Feed them the Line


If you have a young child who has not yet mastered verbal expression, try feeding them a line instead of taking over next time they need help.

For example, your child is playing at a park and another child starts touching their hair, not hurting them, just touching. Your child looks distressed. You can simply remind them, “You can say ‘stop’ if you don’t like that.”

Sometimes small children freeze up in social situations and giving them little prompts reminds them that they can handle it.


  1. Prompt with Questions


Prompting with questions is a useful tool both during and after a conflict.

If your child seems unhappy with how another child is playing, ask them “Are you okay with that?” or “Do you want to keep playing here or go do something else?” 

These questions remind them to check in with themselves and that they have options.

Asking questions after a tough social situation helps a child process what happened and how they feel. You might say, “I saw your friend take the swing you were using. How did you feel about that? What could you say next time?”

You don’t want to dwell on a conflict when your child has clearly moved on, but if they’re still upset, prompting them to talk about it can help.


  1. Roleplaying


What if your child is having a conflict at school and you’re not there to help? Try roleplaying with your child. 

Take turns being the child who takes the toy away or says something unkind and practice different responses. Make sure to let your child come up with their own responses unless they ask you for help. This lets them practice in a very low pressure situation so they won’t freeze up when a real conflict arises.


While these strategies are really simple, it doesn’t mean they’re always easy. It takes a lot of trust in our children to step back and let them handle a tough situation. We have to trust that they are strong and capable and that they will figure this out if we let them. Protecting them without taking over empowers them to do this in a safe way and build the confidence they need.


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