Fed up with your children fighting all the time? Learn how to stop the bickering with these effective sibling rivalry solutions!
The things my kids fight about almost seem comical.
They fight about who gets to hop inside the van first and whose turn it is to play with a quarter-inch Lego piece. Other times it’s the rude tone of voices that sets them off, or a comment taken as teasing and taunting.
Perhaps you can relate. It feels like your kids are always fighting or tattling about one another. Every minute, someone is running up to tell you how the other was being mean. And forget about leaving them alone—that’s just prime time to hear yet another argument.
The sibling rivalry is getting old and frustrating, so much so that you have to yell just to get them to stop.
You know it’s unrealistic that they get along all the time, but you do want them to be able to handle sibling fighting in a calm and more appropriate way. And now you’re left unsure how to go about solving this.
Sibling rivalry solutions that work
Rest assured, you’re not the only one hoping to find sibling rivalry solutions and harmony instead of ongoing battles among your kids.
I list four of the most common challenges many parents face and how to respond to them in a way that squashes disputes quickly. These establish family values and expectations of how everyone treats one another.
Take a look at these challenges and the sibling rivalry solutions that can stop the fighting once and for all:
Challenge 1: Your kids are defensive and blame others
Tell me if this sounds familiar: the kids are roughhousing and you hear a loud crash. You come into their room to investigate, except one of your kids is defensive, immediately saying he didn’t do it. He goes out of his way to discount his sister’s claims and blames her for the crash.
Not only do you have to deal with the loud crash, you now need to listen to arguments about why it’s not their fault (and why it’s the other’s).
And who could blame them? If they’ve gotten in trouble for breaking family rules or lost privileges in the past, they wouldn’t want to admit their wrongdoing. Other times, they don’t believe they’re at fault, and feel adamant about clearing their name.
How do you stop them from feeling defensive and blaming other family members?
- Show empathy to both kids. Make sure both sides feel heard. Acknowledge the emotions that might have driven each person to behave the way they did. This not only melts their defenses but allows either side to understand the other person’s point of view.
- Focus on the relationship, not on the wrongdoing. When helping them resolve sibling conflict, don’t focus so much on what went wrong, and instead teach them how to resolve it in a respectful way. Make preserving their friendships a higher priority than finding out who did wrong.
- Describe what happened. Sibling rivalry is hardly black and white. In many scenarios, both sides played a role, whether unintentionally or not. Avoid an accusatory or scolding tone of voice when helping them figure out a solution. Instead, describe what happened, like you’re recounting the events in plain facts. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter who did what, especially when the focus is on moving on and forgiving.
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Challenge 2: Your kids don’t share
Raise your hand if you can relate to the crying and whining that happens the minute your kids both want the same thing.
Many conflicts happen when both want the same thing, from a coveted new toy to eating the strawberry popsicle (heaven forbid they get the mango one!) to sitting on your lap. And some things—like the popsicle or sitting on your lap—can’t be shared or divided.
The inevitable reaction is to cry, pout, and even resort to name-calling. How can you teach them to compromise?
- Don’t force them to share. Or at least not right away, especially when the one using the desired item is interested and focused on it. You can imagine how frustrating it is to be interested in an item, only to have to give it up in the name of sharing.
- Focus on turn-taking. If both can’t use the same item together, then focus on turn-taking. One can sit on your lap while reading one book, and the other has his turn for the next one. Tip: Include a “measuring tool” to decide turns, such as when one book is done or setting a timer for a toy. If they truly can’t take turns (like with a popsicle), reassure them that they can get the strawberry one the next day.
- Avoid non-shareable items to begin with. I’m all too familiar with how much kids measure fairness. I rarely offer something if I know they can’t have equal shares of it. If I only have two bags of chips and three kids, I stash them for another time, perhaps when I only have two kids with me. Encourage family activities that include everyone, like playing board games.
Challenge 3: Your kids hurt each other
Whether your kids say the other is “mean” or outright punch them in the tummy, nothing feels worse than witnessing them hurting each other.
Most likely, they’re behaving from a place of anger and resentment, one where clear judgment or logic isn’t exactly at the forefront. They might have different temperaments. And regardless of how terrible the behavior is, it’s likely that it stemmed from a valid reason, such as feeling hurt or excluded.
Still, no matter the root cause, it doesn’t justify the behavior, no matter how hurt they may feel. Instead, teach them that it’s okay to disagree, but it’s not okay to hurt each other. That there’s always a more respectful, compassionate way to voice their feelings.
How can you teach them to keep their hands—and their harsh words—to themselves?
- Teach impulse control. Most kids react out of anger, triggered by something their sibling had done. Focus on different ways they can respond, rather than react, to how others behave, no matter how challenging they can be. For instance, I tell my kids that no matter how annoyed they feel by their brothers, they must not resort to hitting.
- Monitor them extra carefully, especially if one or both of your kids tends to hit. Most “hitting” phases come and go. If one of them is in one right now, spend more time with them so you can prevent hitting from happening. Be more present so you can prevent and address the issue right away.
- Give them alternatives. We make the mistake of banishing what we think triggered the behavior, like feeling angry or disagreeing with others. Don’t paint a negative picture though, because it’s normal to feel upset or disagree with others. Rather than telling them not to get angry, offer different ways to express that anger, like using words, coming to get you, or walking away.
Challenge 4: One child excludes the other
How often have your young children said, “I don’t want to play with you!” or “Go away, I don’t like you”? Maybe they don’t even bother with words, and outright push each other out of the way.
Sometimes, sibling rivalry isn’t about both kids wanting the same thing, disagreeing, or blaming one another. Instead, one wants to play together but the other isn’t interested.
It’s tempting to reprimand the one who rejected the other, especially when she didn’t behave kindly. Not only that, you want them to get along, and when you see one excluding the other, you feel compelled to nip it in the bud. Still, there are better ways to address these family dynamics besides reprimanding. How?
- Encourage empathy. Describe the situation so that both sides feel heard. “Sarah, you want to play with Alice. But Alice, it looks like you want to play alone right now. Is that right?”
- Acknowledge the right to personal space. Your kids are entitled to play with whomever and with whatever they’re interested in. Meet their individual needs and acknowledge the fact that one child can play alone if she chooses, just as the other can do the same. You can say, “It’s fine for Alice to want to play alone. Sarah, remember how you were in your room earlier and had so much fun with your stuffed animals? Alice wants to play alone for now.”
- Show them a better way to say the same thing. As good as it is for one child to play alone, she still needs to learn a better way to say “no.” Model the words to use, and remind them to think of how others would feel before saying anything. “Alice, you can play alone, but you do need to say it in a better way. You wouldn’t like it if Sarah said that to you. You can tell her, ‘When I’m done with this building’ or ‘In a bit.'”
- Forecast a time in the future when they can play together. To appease both kids, remind them that they have plenty of time to play together down the line. That way, the one who wanted to play understands that she just has to wait a little bit.
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As frustrating as it is to witness your kids fighting with each other, finding sibling rivalry solutions isn’t impossible.
Focus on a strong sibling relationship rather than laying blame or assigning fault to either one. Encourage empathy so both kids understand how the other feels. Reassure them that feelings—even difficult ones—are normal, but that they must be expressed in a respectful and kind way.
Above all, define your expectations about what is and isn’t acceptable in your home. Treating each other poorly is never an option, regardless of how each one feels, because we can always find a better way to communicate.
My kids might still fuss about who gets to hop in the van first or use the quarter-inch Lego piece. But at least now they know how to disagree respectfully.
p.s. Check out The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa, all about the challenges and perks of having an older sibling:
Get more tips:
- 7 Things You Need to Do to Avoid Sibling Jealousy
- How to Get Your Child to Help with Younger Siblings
- Encourage Siblings to Get Along from a Young Age
- How to Get Your Twins to Stop Fighting
- How to Teach Your Child to Be Assertive
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