Tired of your children fighting, from arguments to hitting each other? Apply these tips on how to stop kids from fighting once and for all.
Hands down, hearing my kids fight is one of my biggest triggers. You know, the kind that makes you snap, yell “Just stop it already!” or hide in your room.
And it’s always for the weirdest reasons, too. For instance, here are some of the things my kids have fought about:
- When one copied another’s drawing of Darth Vader
- Whether a banana and an apple do (or do not) make the number “10”
- Whose turn it was to read from the Harry Potter trivia cards
- Because two of them crashed into each other during a game of chase
- One said the other’s shirt was too long
- When one wanted to build a fort but the other wanted to play alphabet robots
It’s amusing to think about it in hindsight, but in that moment, you just wish they’d agree to disagree and move on.
How to stop kids from fighting
If you’re tired of siblings fighting, rest assured, you’re not alone.
Maybe all your kids do is fight, bicker, and scream at each other, enough to drive you crazy. You’ve confiscated privileges, but they continue to rage on. Making them do “nice” things for each other feels disingenuous (not to mention ineffective at getting them to stop fighting).
Separating them seems to work, but that’s not exactly the kind of family dynamic you want. Even going out in public is getting ridiculous, leaving you embarrassed to hear how your kids talk to one another. They even get physical to the point of hitting each other.
No matter what, you’re at your wit’s end, getting so frustrated that you end up screaming at them as well. You never thought you’d be the mom who screams at her kids all the time, and now you feel horrible that it’s come down to this.
Thankfully, you have solutions. You see, even though my kids still fight now and then, I’ve found that we can follow best practices to improve the way they interact with one another other.
A lot of it starts with preventing the fighting in the first place and correcting the mistakes we’re making that cause excessive fighting. Then, when your kids do fight, you can get them to stop without feeling just as frustrated yourself. Even better: you can actually nurture a loving, healthy relationship between them:
1. Give your kids a chance to work it out
I notice that the reason I tend to intervene when my kids fight, is that I can’t stand the idea of them being “mean” to one another. My defenses go up and I feel compelled to “protect” the one who’s being hurt.
But doing this only denies kids the chance to practice conflict resolution. After all, childhood is the perfect time to learn these social skills, so that by adulthood, they’re better equipped to handle them well. By letting them work it out on their own, they learn valuable skills like:
- Resolving social conflict
- Better communication
- Negotiating skills
- Empathy for others
Jumping in too soon—or at all—also sends the message that they’ll always need a third party to find common ground. If arguments don’t end unless mom gets involved, they won’t feel equipped to handle disagreements on their own.
And finally, you’re not able to draw the line between their problems and yours. Save your involvement when their fighting actually affects you. Arguing about a jacket to head out the door will make you late for an appointment—whose turn it is to throw the ball, however, doesn’t affect you.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and not to mention grating, to hear them fight. And when all you want is some peace and quiet, getting involved seems like a quick solution. But the next time they fight, give them a chance to work it out on their own before jumping in right away.
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2. Calm everyone down
Not only do we parents tend to jump in needlessly, we also feel compelled to “get to the bottom of things.”
We ask what happened, punish the wrongdoer, force them to apologize, or try to piece together the sequence of events that led to the feud. Except that only leads to finger-pointing and a lot of “I didn’t do anything!” all while the kids are crying at the top of their lungs.
No wonder we’re ready to tear our hair out when they fight.
Except I’ve found that it’s much more effective to focus on calming everyone down first. Your kids will be emotional at that point and in no state to listen to what you’re saying, much less apply any of the lessons you’re hoping they learn.
They’re also more defensive, unable to see the other’s point of view. Plus, this kind of energy only puts you in a bad mood and more likely to snap, yell, or discipline in ways you’d rather not if you were calm.
So, what to do? Put all your energy on calming everyone down. Forget about who did what, or what consequence you need to give. Simply be the calm mom everyone needs to lower their intense feelings and behave more rationally.
3. Allow each child to speak
Now that your kids are calmer, give each one a chance to speak and explain what happened. The key is to guide your kids to describe their point of view without accusing the other. You’re helping them communicate how they feel, while encouraging the other to listen and develop empathy.
Here’s the other important tip: Describe and repeat what happened, filling in “holes” when needed. This validates the child talking and also allows the other to see a different point of view.
For instance, if one said, “I was still playing with Iron Man when he took it,” you might say, “You left Iron Man on the coffee table to go to the bathroom. You were going to play with it again when you came back. But then your brother saw it and thought you were done playing with it.”
4. Acknowledge what each child feels
Besides giving each child a chance to speak and repeating their stories, label how they feel as well. It feels good for others to describe your point of view, and they can identify and put words to their emotions.
You might say to one child, “I’d feel mad too if I thought someone took the toy I was playing with while I was in the bathroom. You weren’t done playing with it yet, and it feels like he just took it away from you.”
Then to the other child, you could say, “You didn’t like it when your brother got mad at you about Iron Man. You thought he was done playing, and didn’t know why he asked for it back.”
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“Even if one child seems to have done a worse offense, empathize with both kids—they each have their reasons for why they did what they did. Acknowledge this reason without putting judgment on either child. One child’s actions may have been wrong (pushing, let’s say), but the emotions that led him to do so are still valid (feeling like his little brother was invading his space).”
5. Ask for or guide them through a resolution
As your kids get older, or as they go through these exercises more often, you’ll find that you can actually ask them what they think they should do next. Again, it can feel uncomfortable, especially when we have ideas of our own, or if sending them to their rooms seems like a quicker fix.
But the more they can resolve their own conflict, the less they’ll need your help the next time.
After all, our job isn’t to stop fights whenever they happen. Our job is to equip them with the skills to handle it on their own. And the only way they can do that is if they’re engaged in finding their own solutions in the first place.
That said, sometimes kids truly have no idea how to move forward, they’re still too raw with emotions, or they’re too young. In that case, suggest a few ideas and ask them which ones they think could work.
For instance, they can try taking turns, especially by using a timer (ten minutes each with Iron Man) or a number of turns (each gets 20 pushes on the swing). They can also divide pieces among all siblings, like if they’re playing with blocks or Lego bricks.
And sometimes they can just agree to disagree. They’ll learn that they don’t always have to change another person’s mind to move on to other things.
Overlooked mistakes to avoid
What mistakes might we be making that contribute to the kids fighting? Take a look at these little-known mistakes we make that actually make the fighting worse:
- Favoring one child over the other. When kids fight, it’s tempting to take sides and favor the child who was hurt. But both kids have valid reasons and genuine feelings that drove them to this final outcome. While one child hitting the other isn’t the answer, he may have felt compelled to do so because his sibling was being mean. The result? Kids vie for the favored spot to get your sympathy, which doesn’t address the deeper reasons beneath.
- Getting in the middle of their fight. You’re probably thinking, But aren’t I SUPPOSED to stop them from fighting? Actually, no, at least not all the time. In fact, most of the times you interject are about issues that don’t need your guidance. Even worse, getting in the middle of their fight prevents them from learning how to resolve it on their own. Then you end up with kids who can’t come to a conclusion without a parent helping.
- Needing to make everything fair. In trying to keep everyone happy, you might be focusing too much on keeping things fair and equal. But fairness isn’t always the best goal with siblings. After all, older kids have more responsibilities and privileges, and each child has his or her own preferences.
How to prevent kids from fighting
While it’s important to know how to handle kids fighting, how can you prevent it from happening in the first place?
- Be consistent with your expectations. Kids need to know how you expect them to behave and treat one another, as well as the consequences for not doing so. Don’t try too many consequences that leave them confused. Stick to one for a while and allow it to sink in.
- Take a family day. This is especially useful if you’ve been house-bound all day. Sometimes all you need is a fun outing to “reset” their moods, like going to the park, reading together, hiking, or playing games. A family day can keep everyone relaxed and refreshed.
- Give your kids their own space. Kids can’t always identify, much less articulate, their need for personal space. Give each child their own space. Maybe it’s a desk or closet just for them, special stuffed animals only they can use, or even the right to decide who gets to go on their bed.
Learning how to stop kids from fighting can be a challenge, but certainly not impossible. Start by giving them a chance to work it out on their own without you intervening. If you do need to get involved, focus on calming everyone down first before trying to find a resolution.
Then, give each child a chance to speak, all while repeating and acknowledging what they said and how they felt. And finally, ask them for ideas everyone can agree to, or if needed, suggest a few of your own.
All these steps have one goal: to teach your kids how to resolve their own conflict so that they don’t always have to get you involved.
After all, no parent wants to (nor should) keep intervening forever—especially about a copied drawing of Darth Vader or whose turn it is to read from a trivia card.
Get more tips:
- How to Teach Conflict Resolution for Children
- Top Challenges (and Solutions!) for Sibling Rivalry
- 7 Things You Need to Do to Avoid Sibling Jealousy
- How to Stop Tattling
- How to Get Your Twins to Stop Fighting
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