There are 6 steps to use when children’s fighting escalates. For more information, read Becky Bailey’s wonderful book Conscious Discipline.
Ryan hits Jacob.
Step 1: Attend to Jacob first (see the article “Assertiveness or Bullyproofing Your Child”) but then focus on Ryan.
Step 2: Say what you think the child wanted. “You wanted Jacob to look at you”. Ryan may have hit Jacob but you are trying to find what Ryan’s real need was. Assume Ryan’s intent was positive- even though that might be hard to do.
Step 3: Describe the child’s actions. “You wanted Jacob to look at you so you took your fist and hit him on the top of his head”. This builds self-awareness in Ryan.
Step 4: Assume positive intent. Say, “You didn’t know the words to use without being hurtful” instead of saying something like, “You are so mean.” So instead of judging Ryan as a person, you frame his hitting as a mistake. Assuming positive intent will make it more likely that Ryan cooperates with you.
Step 5: State the limit assertively but calmly. “You may not hit! Hitting hurts people”.
Step 6: Teach the child what you want him to do instead of hitting. “When you want someones attention, you can ask him to look at you. Try that right now.” Have Ryan say, ” Jacob, please look at me”.
Step 7: Afterwards, encourage Ryan for trying. “You did it! Jacob is looking at you”.
Bailey, B. (2000). Conscious discipline. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.