Coach Rather than Referee: Helping Children Get Along

NPN RTD featureThis post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of  Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.


In a perfect world, our children would automatically get along. There would be no arguing or fighting. Life would be perfectly peaceful, and unicorns would shoot symbolic hearts from their horns (because real hearts would be disturbing…..and messy). The world is not perfect. And luckily I don’t have unicorns prancing around my house, leaving their piles of rainbow colored poop behind for me to clean up. Been there. Done that. All those colors mixed together result in regular poop-colored poop. It smells horrendous, too.

Photo by Woodley Wonder Works
Photo by Woodley Wonder Works

Conflict is a part of life. It happens. If you have more than one child, there will be conflict between them at some point, especially if these very different people have very different personalities (or someone looks at someone else). The question is not whether or not there will be conflict; the question is regarding how you will handle it.

It can seem logical that as parents, we need to jump in and referee these arguments before they escalate into full fledge fights. This is where I urge you not to be a referee. Your children do not need a referee. Referees break up fights. They make certain that everyone is playing by the rules, which everyone knows are meant to be broken. They can seem biased, whether or not they really are. And even if the referee isn’t needed often, the sole purpose of the referee is to mitigate between opposing teams.

In these instances, what your children need is a coach. Coaches help players learn to do better. They guide them. They help them work together as a team. They help them develop new skills, the same skills which will help them navigate the game (in this case, life) from now on. What can you do to help coach your children and work through those conflicts?

Stay Connected. Research shows that when children have better relationships with their children, the children have better relationships with each other. Everyone needs to feel loved, connected, and valued. When they do, they are able to transfer that and apply it to how the treat others.

Emotion Coaching. Bottle up those feelings and eventually the bottle is going to explode. It won’t be pretty. Instead, we need to help our children recognize and name their emotions as they learn appropriate ways to express those feelings. They need to feel safe to experience and express their emotions. In doing so, they will learn to manage their feelings and calm themselves, understand and empathize with others, put their own needs into words, and work together to form solutions which work for everyone (win/win solutions).

Regulate Your Own Emotions. It isn’t enough to talk to our kids and help them through a situation. Much of their learning comes from watching us. We need to work to regulate own emotions and model the behaviors we want our children to exhibit.

It won’t happen in a day. The most talented athletes have to work and practice. But with a little coaching on our parts, we can help our children to work together, appreciate one another, and build a lifelong relationship with each other built on love and understanding.


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