Peck, Peck, Peck: Managing Fights in Your Household
If a chicken gets a little cut on its leg, the other birds will start pecking at the wound. They’ll peck until the wound gets bigger and bigger. So, what do we do if there’s “pecking” going on between our kids?
by Jessica Eyre
When I was in fourth grade, we got a new student part-way through the year. She had a frizzy poof of orange hair and occasionally wobbled around in high-heeled pumps. As an adult, I look back at her and would call her a quirky kid who was probably a bit insecure and overcompensated with costume jewelry and wild stories.
As a kid, though, I thought she was pretty odd. And kids don’t always know how to handle oddities. This girl was the target of lots of playground teasing and probably more than that.
One particular day when our classmate was absent, our teacher skipped our usual lesson plan to teach a bunch of 10-year-olds about chickens. She started out by talking about the dynamics of the flock. You’ve heard of the pecking order, right? Animal instinct for survival dictates that the flock is only as strong as its weakest member. So as the roosters and hens jockey for position, they pull feathers and peck to claim their position in the hierarchy of the flock.
Weak or sick birds become targets for healthy birds, who will drive them from the flock or even kill them.
Our teacher described it like this: If a bird gets a little cut on its leg, the other birds will start pecking at the wound. They’ll peck and peck and peck at it until it gets bigger and bigger, and eventually, they kill the bird.
Then, like any great teacher, she connected it to our lives. And she didn’t mince words. She told us we were pecking at the wounds of this particular classmate. And if we kept pecking, it would make those wounds bigger and bigger. Even all these years later, I remember the room being completely silent, and I remember the way I felt. I’ve relayed this story a few times over the years, and I still can’t get all the way through it without getting a little teary. It was that impactful.
This classmate moved away at the end of the school year, so I don’t know what happened to her, but I do know what happened to me when it comes to how I handle the pecking order in my own life.
While dealing with bullying at school involves other parents, teachers, and administrators, for our purposes here, let’s talk about bullying within our own homes. What can we do if there is pecking going on between siblings? To answer that, we must first determine whether or not the pecking is due to stress, boredom, sickness, or overcrowding.
Healthy sibling rivalry is how kids let out emotion, test their power, and establish differences. Sometimes, fighting is actually how they get along.
Is it stress?
Is your child overly stressed? Is there a lot of pressure to make good grades, excel in sports, etc.? Aggressive behavior in children is a common reaction to being highly stressed. Because kids especially aren’t always able to understand or communicate their feelings, keep the conversation open to talking about how they’re feeling and how you can help them cope.
According to Stomp Out Bullying, most bullies act out of a need for attention or to feel empowered. Most bullies don’t understand the gravity of their behavior or how it affects their victims. If signs of stress or other behaviors don’t lessen, you may want to seek professional help.
Is it boredom?
In the current culture of competition and overscheduled kids, it’s not often that you hear about kids being too bored. But could too much downtime be the cause of pecking?
According to Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., boredom often leads to fighting, whether it’s at home, in the back seat of the car, or even in public. But Pickhardt says healthy sibling rivalry is how they let out emotion, test their power, and establish differences. Sometimes, fighting is actually how they get along.
But that doesn’t mean parents just have to put up with it. Make sure the rivalry doesn’t get too out of hand and cause physical or emotional harm. When you can, help them come up with their own resolution.
Is it sickness?
With chickens, picking on the weak and sick birds of the flock is a survival instinct. The chickens see a weak spot and they peck and peck and peck it until it kills the chicken. As family members, we often know each other’s greatest vulnerabilities and use them against each other. We take that little weak spot and peck and peck and peck at it until it becomes a much bigger problem. And sometimes we treat the ones we love most with the least amount of understanding or kindness. We give second chances to perfect strangers and not our own families. Try to remember to treat your family members the way you would your friends. And as parents, try and behave as though you were in public even when you’re in the privacy of your own home.
Is it overcrowding?
Bigger kids need more space: physically and emotionally. According to the Child Development Institute, teenagers need space to explore who they are as individuals, separate from their parents. So if the physical space can’t get bigger, let their emotional space grow. Give them a break from the occasional family activity, help facilitate solo or friend time, and support their hobbies or interests.
If you have a lot of pecking among the chicks in your home, understanding the cause of it will help you know how to best combat the problem, whether it’s stress, boredom, sickness, or overcrowding. And you can keep a tiny sore from being pecked into a mortal wound.
Jessica Eyre is a writer and marketing strategist. She loves movies, going to see live music, and has a firm belief that most any life situation can be related to an episode of “Seinfeld.” She is a mother who does her best “I’m interested” face when hearing about the latest YouTube video her kids want to re-enact for her, and yet, at the same time, finds them to be the most interesting people she knows.