Ask Ann:


(Ann Houck is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience working with at-risk children in the foster care system and in orphanages. Her childcare approach uses Trust-Based Relational Intervention, a framework for parenting children of trauma, developed at Texas Christian University.)

By Ann Houck

QUESTION: Two of our children regulary fight with one another. It often becomes physical. No matter what we do, they will not stop fighting! What do we do?

Anonymous Caregiver

Ann answers:

Good question. If these two “regularly fight,” then this is not the first time it has happened. Ideally, we will respond to the situation before it comes to blows.


In order to do so, consider what we know about the altercations—


When do they happen; do we see a pattern to them? For example, do they always happen at bed time, just before dinner, or when it is chore time? What are the clues to this behavior? Am I able to anticipate the situation before it occurs?


We know that behavior is a way of communicating. Behavior like this is a way for the children to let us know that something is not right with them. BUT, can we figure out what that might be?


The answer is: Certainly we can.


First, let’s start with ourselves: How are we feeling? Am I anxious about these fights; do I dread the possibility that it will happen yet again? Do they upset me?


We need to be calm. So, we slowly take a deep breath in and out, and remind ourselves to be focused on what the children are telling us. Once we are fully present to what is happening, the work can begin.


Next, what are we seeing? If it has escalated to the physical stage, we need to get the attention of the children, separate them, and provide them with a feeling of safety.


If blows have already been exchanged, a diversion often helps. Get assistance from fellow workers, if needed. Distract the participants; providing a loud noise may do the trick. (Try dropping something noisy object that will be heard above what’s going on between the two.) We will need an initial, strong response before deescalating.


Now we have their attention; so just what are they telling me?


We can assume there is some need from the past that is not being met right now. You see, the behavior is often full of information for us, the caregiver. What do we know about these kids? If they have been living with us for some time, we want to look at what we know.


For example, do we know what sets them off; what triggers them?


That will help us determine what to do next.


Perhaps they need food, rest, safe physical contact, reduction of ambient noise, or a weighted blanket, just to name a few possibilities. You will be surprised how often these are the underlying causes of conflict.


So, stay with me, dear readers. The good news is that there are remedies. The bad news is that the remedies often begin with us, the caregivers.


Dealing with children who regularly fight can be frustrating. Before we intervene, determine if we are able to fully assess the situation without becoming upset ourselves. It is imperative to stay focused on the kiddos. Our emotional response is not important right now; we need to stay emotionally out of the way.


Our next installment will look at how to use the TBRI IDEAL response to deescalate the situation and directly address the conflict.


As we look at different scenarios, it will most likely become clear that, for most of us, knowing what to do can be difficult. To achieve skill in responding appropriately to kids from hard places, we need training and education.


If you have not already done so, please visit Read and watch whatever is available to you.


Oak Life works with children and caregivers based on the Trust Based Relationship Intervention model. It works! I recommend that you become familiar with this program.

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

Ann Houck

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

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