What You Learn Watching Kids Fight

Fighting Children by Arsalan Naqvi

Mykids fight—to the point of tears—about dumb shit. Who saw a bird first, who got to eat breakfast early, just annoying each other. They seem (and are) juvenile, but in many ways, the way they deal with conflict is more mature than us adults. Or at least more effective. They fight bitterly, scream to high heavens, even rage-fart… and then they just move on. Children have an amazing capacity to forgive and forget, at least their intimates. I envy them.

Adults also fight about dumb shit. Who did the chores, who didn’t share their food, just annoying each other. We’re nominally grown-ups, but in many ways, the way we deal with conflict is less mature. It’s not impressive, we’re just repressed. We can go through the motions of apologizing or talking using big words but we’re just as petulant and petty as children. We say sorry without meaning and talk endlessly without understanding. The brain spins in circles, largely unmoored from the heart. The heart remains a child.

And yet we try to make children like us. Politely repressed. We tell them to “talk about it”, and “say sorry”. I think this is more about them than us. Just as our inner child has been shut up, we need the outer one to pipe down as well. I think about this because we try the same grown-up tactics all the time and they never worked. My children have never once ‘rationally’ talked their way out of a problem. They’re not mini-Solomons, they’re not going to figure out some ingenious way to divide the cupcake through discourse. My children are not able to sustain an apology for more than five seconds. They just say “SORRY!!!” in an extremely aggressive way, and then “Now apologize to MEE!!” Defeats the purpose really.

I think of this because my wife and I rarely ‘rationally’ talk our way out of problems either. We’ve been having the same three basic fights for our entire marriage (family, money, and food) and while we’ve certainly adapted our behaviors, in the moment, the fights are resolved by emotional connection, not ‘rational’ argumentation. The entire debate structure (which I’m professionally used to) is actually quite wrong for relationships, because you’re not trying to ‘win’ or ‘be right’. You’re trying to be together.