Conflicts Between Individual Children

The social relations of children are not always harmonious as our discussion up to this point might lead one to believe. Anyone who has observed children, even superficially, is fully aware of the great amount of conflict between individuals. Disagreements and unpleasant relations are found in infancy. An activity which one enjoys may be distasteful or painful to the other. A toy may be desired by both. One may seek to secure the property of another, or both may try to secure possession of something. A child may find pleasure in doing something that hurts another, and may enjoy doing the thing for its own sake, not because it hurts the other infant. Thus, the mother of healthy, welldeveloped twin boys aged nine months was awakened one morning by loud crying. One twin had the other's great toe in his mouth and was contentedly chewing it as he held on to the foot with both hands, much to the discomfiture of the other twin who. was wriggling and thrashing about as best he could and making a lusty outcry.

After infancy we often find disputes arising over toys, or when one child gets in another's way, or attempts to control or manage his activities. Some children are more aggressive than others. Often we may see a little fellow of two or three hit, pinch, or push another, apparently without any reason. Sometimes jealousy is a cause of young children's quarreling, as when a child of three or four resents another's advances to a child whom he likes. On the whole, then, pre-school children seem to have disagreements, disputes, or quarrels over many matters. We see little reason, however, for believing that any large proportion of very young children's disputes is caused by their love of fighting. In fact, we doubt if a large percentage of children really do desire conflicts or seek them. The impulses seem to be set off by events outside the organism rather than from within. Sometimes, however, a child may be observed whose domineering manner seems to be all, set for a fight. We have seen such children who provoked a dispute and entered with keen enjoyment into poking, biting, hitting, shoving, and pinching their opponents and pulling their hair. Such cases are undoubtedly a result of training and previous experiences. They are found more rarely among girls than among boys.

Early conflicts are of short duration, many times lasting only a minute or two. Sometimes they last a few minutes, but long continued ones are relatively rare. Pre-school children seldom hold resentment for any long time following a conflict. Children in a nursery school between two and five years of age are socially indifferent at first; then they show self-assertiveness and interfere with the liberties of others; and finally many of them come to show considerable consideration, sympathy, and kindness to the other children. One very striking value of the nursery school lies in the opportunity it gives young children to learn wholesome, effective group living.

Conflicts continue to occur between children as they grow older and are much in evidence during their years in the primary grades of the elementary school. They are caused by much the same sort of factors as induce them at the earlier ages -- activities in games, jealousies, overbearing, self-assertive and bullying behavior which disregards the rights of others, as well as misunderstandings and affronts of various sorts. We have observed a few in which the precipitating cause was some disparaging remark or other slighting behavior directed toward a chum of the child. Thus, two boys of seven years in the second grade were fighting after school one, day. The fight lasted for some time and apparently the matter was settled. The next day the teacher questioned the contestants. John was a quiet, well-poised, vigorous lad who seldom had serious difficulties with other children. He had a very good friend, an inseparable chum named Philip, an only child, who was not aggressive, and whose mild, refined speech, mincing walk, and other manners gave one the first impression that he was a "sissy." John said frankly that he began the fight. The other boy had called Philip a sissy. "Philip is my friend. He walks like a sissy, and talks like a sissy, but he ain't no sissy." So John, for love of a friend, made the other boy retract his statement.

Conflicts occur less frequently as children approach puberty, but not because of any magic in the approach of sexual maturation. Children are learning to get along together with less friction and are finding such living socially approved and satisfying. Where home or other conditions place value and social approval upon the child's having conflicts, we are likely to find him developing accordingly. When conflicts among older children occur, they last longer than among pre-school children. Some children may develop a hatred of others that provides a fruitful source of other conflicts.

The behavior of the child in conflict with another varies according to his age and developmental status. Hitting, pushing, tugging to secure possession of a coveted toy or other object, biting, scratching, angry crying, verbal retort, verbal appeal to adults, throwing sand, rocks, or other objects, and the like are common responses of younger children. These are found also among children from six to twelve. Fighting and verbal retort are common among older children. They also use most of the more specific activities listed at the earlier years.

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