Wood's Homes Blog

Fair fighting: What is it? How do you do it? And more importantly, why should you do it?

February 06, 2018
By David McPhee, Wood's Homes Family Support Counsellor
Fair fighting: What is it? How do you do it? And more importantly, why should you do it?

Any internet search will show you that fair fighting has become common language among families and people in conflict. But what is it?

People want to learn the rules to fighting fair, but not many people realize it is more than just a set of rules or guidelines to use in a conflict.  The best way to describe fair fighting is as a general principle for all relationships.  Fair fighting is not something that you should only use when you’re in crisis, but rather something that can consistently help to improve relationships.  The key thing to take away from fair fighting is to maintain respect and validation, even if you strongly disagree with the other’s point-of-view.  Whether it is between a parent/child, a couple or a colleague, the principles of fair fighting can be applied in all relationships.  For the purposes of this post, I will use the example of parent/child conflict.

In our everyday lives, most of us are able to maintain appropriate relationships with one another.  We follow proper social norms and use techniques, such as validation and active listening, to convey that what the other person is saying is important to us.  However, one of the biggest problems when we are in conflict with another person is remembering to use those same techniques. 

The basic principles for fair fighting are respect and validation.  Most people use these in their relationships on a daily basis.  However, when we descend into conflict, respect and validation are usually the first things we forget to use.  So how do we continue to use them?  Well, as the saying goes ‘check yourself, before you wreck yourself.’  It’s important to always check in with yourself to ensure that you are keeping respect and validation in your communication, even if the other person isn’t.

Another barrier to fair fighting is the bringing up of unresolved feelings or grievances.  Often when I speak to families who are in a constant state of conflict, they become so immersed in their prior complaints that they lose perspective as to what the initial conflict was about.  Sometimes this is the result of past concerns being built up without any sort of resolution or even being addressed with the other person.  The best way to deal with problems is as they arise.

Wood’s Homes strives to support family-centred care and teaches families how to have healthy conflict within their relationships.  Fair fighting encourages families to approach conflicts in a respectful, validating, solution-focused way.  By engaging in fair fights, the hope is that families will be able to resolve conflicts as they arise and not wait for them to build up to the point of bursting.  Wood’s Homes not only encourages our families to engage in fighting fairly, but also encourages its employees to utilize the same techniques in communicating concerns.

Here are 6 things parents/caregivers can do to have a fair fight:

Stay calm and to the point.

One of the toughest things for a parent to do during a conflict is to stay calm.  When faced with difficult conversations, children can be sarcastic, rebellious, defiant, loud, etc.  You need to prepare yourself for these moments and learn to keep cool to help defuse the situation.  Staying calm doesn’t mean being passive, it means that you don’t react to misbehaviours in an angry or aggressive manner. 

In addition to staying calm, it is important the conversation isn’t longer than it needs to be.  One thing to remember is that lectures don’t change behaviours. Think about what you want to say before talking with the young person.  Organize your thoughts and deliver them in a clear, organized manner.  If you don’t have time before you address the issue, simply stating that you need some time to think about it is always better than trying to address your concerns without thinking them through.

Avoid generalizations.

Using generalizations like “always” and “never” are usually not accurate, and can often result in hurt feelings which can intensify a conflict.  During a conflict, a good strategy is to talk about your feelings using “I” statements.  “I feel that you often forget to take out the trash” sounds better than “You always forget to take out the trash.”

Avoid stockpiling or talking about all the negatives.

Storing up past hurt feelings is counterproductive.  Being able to resolve conflicts as they arise is important to maintaining a healthy relationship.  In addition, not bombarding young people with constant negatives can help to keep them engaged in the conversations.  Even identifying the little things that they are doing can make all the difference in the world (e.g. “I really appreciate you talking with me about this”).


Validation is the key to ensuring that others feel heard.  Most conflicts can avoid escalation if both parties feel that they are being heard.  By simply acknowledging what the other person has said, it shows:

  • you are listening
  • you understand their point of view (you don’t necessarily have to agree with it)
  • you are being non-judgmental
  • you care about the relationship
  • you can disagree without having a big conflict

Take Responsibility.

Accept others’ perspectives and offer an apology for any wrongdoing on your part, especially if the other person is becoming aggressive and angry. This strategy can often help to deescalate conflict and intense emotions.

Remember to take a break if things are getting too heated.

Often times, people want to remain in a conflict to try and find a resolution.  It is important to remember that if things are becoming too intense or aggressive, you can take a break.  Spend time doing something soothing and distracting.  Once you are in a better space, it is important to return to the conflict so it doesn’t stockpile and become unmanageable.