When My Kids Fight, What Should I Do?

Dear Sober Dad,

What do you advise about interceding when your kids fight?

Lucy M., Santa Barbara, California.


Dear Lucy,

I can’t advise; I can only suggest, and I’ll share with you what’s worked for me.

I believe in two theories of law enforcement when it comes to raising children. One is called community policing and the other is the broken windows approach.

Allow me to explain.

Community policing refers to the idea that the “cop on the beat” is a known and friendly presence, who diminishes conflicts and confrontations on the street before they happen.

Sober Dad sees himself as a Community Policeman in his own home.

It basically means that I try not to wait until things are out of hand before I intervene.

If I hear things getting heated, I’ll step over to the door and say something along the lines of, “Is everything okay in there?”

My kids know what that means—it means that if things don’t settle down quickly, they will be separated. This gives them a chance to work things out—along with the recognition that working things out is obligatory if they wish to avoid parental escalation.

Just think of the friendly officer on the beat, Patrolman Sober Dad, looking to keep the peace, because it’s easier to do that than to restore it.

The “broken windows” school of policing suggests that if you go after the small quality of life crimes, you will cut down on the bigger crimes of violence and crimes against property, because the perpetrators are typically the same people.

In New York City, for example, it was determined that the same people who jump over the turnstiles at subways then go on to assault people on the platforms. So if you bust them for smaller crimes, you will prevent the larger ones.

The theory, created by expert criminologists, is called “Broken Windows” because the idea is that if you replace windows as soon as they are broken, if you address the lowest levels of lawlessness, you are not allowing a lawless environment to fester.

Applying the same school of criminology in one’s home, Sober Dad recommends that a parent intervene at the first moment of name calling or raised voices, because invariably things will only go downhill.

In other words, what you tolerate, you will get more of.

I like to say that in our home, I have only one rule—the “no kaka” rule, kaka being a mildly scatological catch-all for any sort of inappropriate behavior of which Sober Dad disapproves.

The broad latitude the “no kaka” rule offers is perfect for a family in which behavior changes as children grow and, theoretically, mature.

Some examples of the “no kaka” rule in action:

It’s never okay to call a sibling a name.

It’s never okay to use sarcasm on a sibling (or a parent, for that matter).

If you catch things early, then you have a chance of keeping things from going south, and that makes for a happy day.

Other parents are free to do things as they see fit, but this is what has worked for Sober Dad, and it’s my column.