pre and early primary

Fighting in Pre and Early Primary School-age Children

29 December 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Almost inevitably, young children will engage in a little rough play that can easily turn into friction and conflict in pre and early primary school-age children– unless fast action is taken.

Fighting in pre and early primary school-age children

To be precise, there is a big difference between true fighting and the squabbles that can sometimes arise between younger children specially in pre and early primary children.

Older children of say 7+ years may fight where the intention is to hurt or ‘win’ over another child. We won’t be discussing that here.

Very few children under 5-6 years of age genuinely fight with the intention of hurting another child. However, as there are no other terms to describe such behaviour other than ‘fighting’, we’re forced to use that in what follows.

The causes of fighting

These can be many and varied but often revolve around:

  • competition for toys or playthings;
  • cooperative play that suddenly escalates out of control;
  • over-excitement / over-stimulation;
  • tiredness and arising irritability;
  • sibling pressures (being pushed around by older siblings and reacting accordingly);
  • frustration, often meaning when the child is trying to do something and is being stopped by another child.

Symptoms

Fighting at younger ages in pre and early primary children most often manifests in pushing, shoving and dragging between children. Hitting, kicking, scratching and biting are seen but are less common. At times, children may also throw things at each other or try to hit others with an item

Explosions of these sorts can come from seemingly nowhere but they are sometimes preceded by shouting, screaming, crying or demands for parental / care provider intervention to stop what the child perceives as unfairness.

By and large, the fight will conclude very rapidly and often within a few minutes, the children are happily playing with each other again.

Typically, even at this age fights tend to happen boy-boy or girl-girl but some may arise between a boy and a girl.

Learning about the world

Children under the age of 5-6 will have usually made huge progress in learning about their emotions and how to control them. However, that understanding and control is still a thin veneer and at times, it will break.

This process also happens with adults but most children over about 7 years of age have increased their mastery of self-control substantially from that of a 5-year-old.

Pre-school and early primary school children still need help to understand both how to deal with their emotions and also in grasping the boundaries of what is or is not acceptable behaviour. Many children who become involved in a scrap with another do so because they haven’t yet fully learned that this is not a way to resolve a dispute or to vent their frustrations and temper etc.

These incidents are normal and are virtually never cause for serious concern.

Adult reactions

Whether at home, outside playing or in pre or primary school, responsible care providers must:

  • where some warning is available, move in quickly to defuse the situation before it deteriorates into a fight in pre and early primary children;
  • if that’s not possible, immediately separate the fighting children, whilst remaining perfectly calm. Stay sympathetic and describe the situation as “sad” or “silly”. Avoid major recriminations and threats of retribution. Also, try to avoid ascribing blame to one or the other even where it is clear in your eyes;
  • if possible, the children should be taken to separate rooms with an adult soon after pre and early primary children fights;
  • once separated, allow the child a few minutes to calm down. Being with them and offering reassurance is fine but try not to demand immediate explanations or offer detailed counselling while their temper is possibly still running hot;
  • after they’ve calmed down, ask them to explain why the fight started. Anticipate some fibs;
  • discuss with them why fighting is bad and ask them for their opinion as to how the fight could have been avoided. Use emphasis on things like the “baby-like nature” of fighting but unless the circumstances are exceptional, try to avoid punishments and threats. Ask the child or children for their ideas as to how fights could be avoided in future;
  • after some time has elapsed, bring the children back together to make up.

Genuine behavioural challenges 

In a very tiny percentage of cases, there may be concerns about the behaviour of a specific child.

That usually means:

  • their fighting is frequent;
  • they seem to regularly be the primary instigator;
  • he or she is taking great pleasure from fighting;
  • they’re seemingly intentionally trying to inflict regular physical harm on other children under the guise of fighting.

In such cases, it would be advisable to seek the advice of your doctor, who may advise some specialist tests and counselling for the child concerned.

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