Tired of the constant squabbles between your kids? Here’s how to stop siblings from fighting and teach them how to resolve their conflicts cooperatively.
No parent escapes sibling rivalry.
Some days my boys seem to intentionally choose to fight. Even if we offered two of the same fire trucks, one would still want the truck that the other one had. And just when I’d finally convinced one child to play with the ‘less desirable’ truck, the other would grab it, too.
Let’s not forget the hitting, the “mine!” and the “being annoying on purpose.” Parents have become referees in their own homes.
When my husband and I were expecting for the second time, we wanted out kids to get along, right from the start. We knew they’d fight, but we wanted to teach them how to resolve conflict.
How to stop siblings from fighting
I don’t believe siblings are destined to fight all the time. Or that all kids go through major sibling rivalry until they move out. A peaceful house where the kids get along is possible.
Still, conflict is inevitable, even among siblings who are best of friends. What are some tips to stop sibling rivalry?
Don’t resolve the conflict for your kids.
When your kids fight, what’s your first reaction? Do you barge right in, hoping to put an end to the fighting as soon as possible?
Try instead not to resolve their conflict. Yes, it’s uncomfortable watching our children struggle. But describe what happened, and what each child must be feeling instead. Ask your kids what they can do to resolve the conflict in a way both kids are happy about. Offer other options, and guide them to speak and interact peacefully with one another other. And give your kids some time, even just a pause, to see if they can figure it out.
Show empathy to both children.
When teaching my kids conflict resolution, I try to narrate what’s happening. I’m putting words to how each child feels, regardless of who instigated the argument. Both children have valid feelings they need acknowledged and expressed.
Because even the child who started it did so for a reason. Acknowledge this reason without judging either child. No matter how wrong your child’s actions may be, he still feels like an injustice has been done to him.
So you might say, “You’re fighting over the car. Theo, you’re upset because Alex is playing with the car you were playing with earlier. And Alex, you’re upset because Theo got up to play with something else. So you thought you could play with the car now.”
You validate their emotions by saying what each child is likely thinking or feeling. Don’t worry if they don’t understand what you say—you’re modeling what peaceful conflict resolution looks like. It’s much better than seeing their mom frustrated!
Suggest turn-taking, sharing or dividing the item.
Turn-taking is my go-to move when the kids are fighting over the same thing. Explain to one child that she’ll have a chance to play with the train for a few minutes before she hands it to her brother. Then the same applies to her brother. Back and forth.
We’ve even had luck with extended turn-taking. My eldest was wearing swim goggles, but his little brother wanted to wear it as well. I explained, “It’s brother’s turn right now. When he’s done, he’ll give it to you.” Then I addressed my five-year-old, “When you’re done, make sure to give the goggles to him.” When he forgets, I remind him to hand the goggles to his brother so both know I mean my word.
Foster playing together and sharing.
Another strategy is to encourage them to play together. I’ll explain to the older one that his younger brother wants to learn from him. So I’ll say, “He likes the guitar you’re playing with. Why don’t you show him how it works? He doesn’t know yet how to play it.”
He’s in teacher mode instead of a whiny, “get my brother out of here” mode. I’ve seen an instant switch when I do this, and it’s pretty awesome to see their interaction change. You can also have your older child point out the cool features of a toy, or read a book to the younger one.
Don’t make the older child in charge of the younger one.
“You’re their brother, not their parent,” we’ll tell our eldest. While being the older sibling does have its roles, he isn’t ‘in charge’ the way parents are.
Your older child isn’t responsible for enforcing rules and responsibilities. They’re equals, and no child should have more or less authority.
Don’t make her “watch” him or play with him. If she tries to enforce family rules say “Thanks, Sweetheart. I’m glad you know the family rules and are so good at following them, but it’s the parents’ job to be in charge.”
Don’t take sides.
Another common parenting mistake? Focusing on who started it or made the worse offense.
It doesn’t matter who started it. None of your kids are ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’ in sibling rivalry. Both have valid reasons to address. A child who instigates conflict may need help with waiting for his turn. Or he’s struggling with friends at school and is lashing out at home.
Separate your kids if needed.
Your kids will want to hit each other in the faces. Or cry and cry with no end in sight. In cases like these, separate them so they don’t hurt each other and have a much-needed cool-down time.
No point trying to make this a teachable moment when your kids are too upset to listen. Focus on calming them down first, sending them in separate ways if they need the physical space.
Encourage, don’t force, your kids to say sorry and make amends.
Toward the end, encourage your kids to say sorry or even give each other a hug. Explain that apologizing makes the other person feel better. Often, both kids need to apologize, and not just the offender. Apologizing gives kids the closure they need and the cue that says things can go back to normal.
But don’t force them to say sorry. You’ll get a lazy or even sarcastic apology with no genuine intent. Worse, they’ll be less likely to say it on their own in the future.
Nothing zaps your day more than siblings fighting. Now you have the tools to help them get along.
Listen to their emotions and empathize with all children. Teach them how to express frustration. Show them how to resolve conflicts through negotiation, turn-taking and playing as a team. And do as much as you can to prevent sibling rivalry to begin with.
All sibling relationships will have conflict. We can do our best to teach them how to resolve them peacefully.
Do you struggle with getting your kids to listen? I’d love to share with you one effective word I’ve found to get kids to listen in this FREE printable handout. Learn about the word, why it works and how to use it (comes with a worksheet, too!).
Get more tips about parenting siblings:
- How to Encourage Siblings to Get Along — Even from a Young Age
- 7 Ways to Teach Your Toddler to Share
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- How to Stop Your Toddler from Hitting
What’s your first reaction when your kids are fighting? What are your tips on stopping siblings from fighting? Let me know in the comments!
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