Siblings fight. It’s a normal part of life. However, some siblings are more prone to fighting, most often if they are close in age and the same gender. If you’re feeling like you’re at your wit’s end when it comes to breaking up arguments and aren’t sure if you’ll survive another screaming match, don’t worry… you’re not alone!
With the help of Dr. Barbara Gablehouse, an award-winning pediatrician and member of our Board of Educators, we crafted a few simple guidelines parents can follow to help solve the problem of quarreling siblings.
Why do siblings fight?
Dr. Gablehouse explains that in many cases, “siblings fight because they are competing for parental attention.” Even if that attention is good or bad.
Instinctively, many children want all of their parent’s love, attention, and support. Subconsciously, a child may feel threatened by another sibling and pick fights in order to see where their parent’s loyalties lie.
Although grown-ups know that it’s possible to love all of their children equally and unconditionally, your kiddos might need a little reassurance with some healthy boundaries.
4 tools to manage fighting siblings
1. Change the way you look at disagreements
Resolving a conflict goes beyond deciding who is “right” or “wrong.” Dr. Gablehouse explains that this can be a “great opportunity for children to learn interpersonal problem-solving skills.” By helping your child work through a conflict, you are showing them how to manage their emotions and appreciate other people’s feelings.
Instead of “putting out fires” every time there’s an argument, you can try to use these situations as teachable moments (whenever possible). For example, you can show your kiddo the importance of a sincere apology. You can also help them recognize when they’re wrong or they’ve made a mistake.
2. Plan a family meeting
Call a family meeting and have your kiddos sit down for a serious conversation with you. Family meetings are best when everyone feels calm—not in the middle of a fight when emotions are heightened.
Start by explaining to your children how their fighting makes you feel (frustrated, annoyed, sad). Ask them individually how the fighting makes them feel, too. If your children interrupt each other, you can draw an ear on one piece of paper and a mouth on another. Whoever is speaking about their experience gets to hold the mouth picture, and the listener holds the ear picture.
Dr. Gablehouse recommends “explaining to children that it’s their responsibility to problem-solve their way through issues between themselves.” It’s okay to have disagreements, but when those disagreements happen, they need to use tools to figure out a solution on their own. As the parent, you have many many jobs to take care of in order to keep the family safe. Part of their job as a sibling is to manage their disagreements with each other.
3. Teach tools for problem management
Unfortunately, we aren’t born knowing how to problem-solve or express complex emotions. Just like speaking, walking, and reading, children look to their parents to learn how to handle conflicts. As a family, you can rehearse what to do when a fight happens between siblings.
As Dr. Gablehouse mentioned, a key to helping your children improve their conflict resolution skills is to “remove yourself from the situation and let them try to resolve the fight themselves.” Children will need some support and coaching at the start, but as they get used to using the tools, they’ll need your interventions less and less.
- Take a deep breath and count to 5.
- Get some space from each other by going into a different room or outside.
- Use “I feel” statements. For example, “I feel really angry when you grab my toy while I’m playing with it.”
- Compromise! Try to work out how everybody can get what they want! They can play with something at the same time or if they don’t want to play together, they might say something like, “How about I play with it for another 5 minutes, and then you can have a turn for five minutes.
4. Dole out equal consequences
Kids are often looking for things to be “fair,” which can lead to loud arguments when boundaries and consequences are put into place. Explain to your kiddos that they’ll all receive equal consequences when they don’t follow the rules.
For example, if two siblings are fighting and one of them breaks something, they both receive the same consequence. This way, children see that your boundaries are fair and equal for all family members.
When it’s time for professional help
Sometimes fights among siblings are beyond what a parent can do to intervene. Reaching out for help is completely acceptable and okay to do! It’s suggested to seek professional help if the fighting leads to physical or psychological harm, or if it creates problems within the parents’ relationship.
For support, parents can speak with their family practitioner for more resources on professional intervention.
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Disclaimer: The information posted/discussed here is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional. We may answer, discuss, and post medical questions solely at our own discretion. The answers to these questions should in no way be considered specific medical advice or a plan for disease management.