“Katie, let’s play house.
I’m the mommy, you’re the baby.”
“No, I’m the mommy, or I won’t be your friend.”
“Then you’re not coming to my birthday party.”
This exchange is typical of what preschoolers say when they argue.
They may play well together and then suddenly tell each other, “I
hate you,” or, “You’re a dummy.” Young children, whose emotions are
close to the surface, concentrate on their immediate wishes and
needs. And because they’re egocentric, they don’t consider each
other’s feelings but let their anger come out in harsh words or
actions. Some children give in when spoken to in this way, while
others either fights back and persist until they get their way, or
try to find an adult to help.
Parents wonder what to do when children are angry with each other.
They should begin by setting limits on their child, who is ego
centric and needs this adult guidance; on her own, she doesn’t think
about others when she’s mad. However, if parents restrict her
expressions of anger too much, she may end up believing that anger
is bad and inappropriate. When she’s kept from expressing her
feelings, they’ll be released in other ways. She may become
destructive with her toys or while playing, manipulative with her
parents or friends, or tricky as she tries to get other children to
do what she wants. She needs a chance to let her anger out, and even
if her parents don’t like to hear her say, “I hate you! I’m not
playing with you,” they should realize that children are not very
good at expressing their exact thoughts. Harsh words are sometimes a
young child’s way of letting her strongest negative feelings be
When it seems appropriate, parents can let arguing children try to
work out their differences themselves as long as no one is getting
physically injured or having his or her feelings terribly hurt.
Children are sometimes surprisingly good at settling their arguments
and can gradually learn to work problems out with one another. A
child who seldom has a chance to settle her own arguments may become
a “tattle tale,” dependent on her parents for help even with minor
Parents who see that children cannot resolve arguments alone can
offer suggestions. “Why don’t you both pretend you’re mommies and
let your dolls be the babies?” If one child shouts something mean to
another, parents should avoid saying, “That’s not nice!” and instead
say, “You’re really mad because Tanya doesn’t want you to play now.
Why don’t you tell her that?” Even if angry children ignore parents’
suggestions, the very presence of adults will have a restraining
effect. Children tend to be less aggressive with each other when
parents are nearby.
You can lessen your child’s involvement in arguments by avoiding
situations that usually lead to problems. For instance, your child
may play well with one child at a time, but not when a third joins
in. Three can be a difficult number—two friends will often pair up
and exclude or attack the third. If you can’t avoid this situation,
give all three children frequent reminders about getting along and
including each other in play. If your child consistently argues with
one particular playmate, limit their time together or tell them,
“You have to find a way to get along with each other or I’m not
going to let you play together” Your young child’s anger, no matter
how momentary, is very real and very strong. Allow her emotions to
be heard, but when necessary, help her control her anger by setting