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When Does Play Fighting Go Too Far?

Question:

I caught my son and his good friend fighting together recently. They were choking each other and calling one another names. Should I tell them not to fight like that anymore?

Answer:

Whenever we are dealing with a child’s behavior, we always want to respond in a way that will be effective, not only now but in the future as well. The best way to do that is to teach. If it is a good behavior, such as sharing or caring, we should describe the behavior and relate it to a specific skill that our child used. Point out how it will benefit him to continue to use that skill in the future.

If the behavior is inappropriate, such as choking or calling a friend insulting names, discourage the behavior by:

  1. Stopping the behavior.
  2. Issue a consequence for that behavior, such as apologizing.
  3. Teach a better way to respond when your son is being called names or when he feels like calling others names.
  4. Practice the good behavior.

Help your son practice handling the situation with his friend differently. Pretend to be the other child involved, and actually have him show you how he can do it differently. Ask him to practice his apology in a sincere manner. Until he follows through with the apology, he does not have any privileges. Point out to him that the longer he waits to do it, the more difficult it will be.

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