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 at school pick-up to 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. Maybe it feels like your kids are always fighting or tattling on one another. Every minute, someone is running up to tell you how the other was being mean. And forget about trying to do something in another room—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 your kids get along all the time, but you do want them to be able to handle sibling fighting more appropriately. And now you’re left just not sure 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 to ongoing battles among your kids.
In fact, below I list four of the most common challenges many parents face, and how to respond to them in a way that squashes the rivalry quick. More important, these rely on positive parenting, establishing family values and expectations of how everyone treats one another, sibling or not.
Take a look at these sibling rivalry solutions, and put a stop to 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. In fact, he goes out of his way to discount his sister’s claims, and instead blames her for the crash.
So 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 their past experiences include getting in trouble or losing privileges, then they have extra incentive to avoid taking the blame. Other times, they truly don’t believe they’re at fault, and feel adamant about clearing their name.
How do you stop your kids from feeling so defensive and blaming others?
- Show empathy to both kids. Make sure both sides feel heard, and acknowledge the emotions that might have driven each person to behave the way they did. This not only melts their defenses, it also allows either side to understand the other person’s point of view.
- Focus on the relationship, not on the wrongdoing. Kids feel compelled to cast blame onto others perhaps because they’re taking their cue from you. When helping your kids resolve conflicts, don’t focus so much on what went wrong, and instead teach them how to resolve it in a respectful way. Make preserving their sibling relationship a higher priority than finding out who did wrong.
- Describe what happened. Sibling rivalry is hardly black and white—more often than not, 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, simply describe what happened, almost like you’re recounting what had happened in plain facts. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter who did what, especially when the focus is on moving on and forgiving.
Tired of losing your cool, especially when the kids don’t listen? Join my newsletter and download my PDF, The Power of Empathy! Learn how to prevent power struggles and instead better connect with your kids, all by understanding their perspective. Get it below—at no cost to you:
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.
Most conflicts between siblings happen when both want the same thing, from a coveted new toy, to eating the strawberry pop (heaven forbid they get the mango one!), or even sitting on your lap. And some things—like the strawberry pop or sitting on your lap—simply can’t be shared or divided.
So the inevitable reaction is to cry and pout about not getting his share, the world suddenly unfair in his eyes.
How can you teach your kids to share?
- Don’t force them to share. Or at least not right away, especially when the one using the desired item is genuinely interested and focused on it. You can imagine how frustrating it is to be so into 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.
- 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 all of them can’t have equal shares of it. If I only have two bags of chips and three boys, I stash them for another time, perhaps when I only have two boys on my hands.
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, one where clear judgment or logic aren’t exactly on the forefront. And regardless of how terrible the behavior is, it’s also likely that it stemmed from a valid reason, such as feeling hurt or excluded.
Still, that doesn’t justify the behavior, no matter how hurt they may feel. Instead, teach your kids it’s okay to disagree, but it’s certainly not okay to hurt each other. That there is always a more respectful, compassionate way to voice your feelings.
How can you teach your kids 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 your kids can respond, rather than react, to how others behave, no matter how challenging they can be. For instance, I’ll 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 has a tendency to hit. Most “hitting” phases come and go. If one of your kids is in one right now, spend more time with them so you can prevent it from happening. Down the line, you can give them more time to themselves, but if one has been hitting, then be more present so you can prevent and address the issue right away.
- Give them alternatives. Sometimes 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, such as by using words, coming to get you, or walking away.
Challenge #4: One child excludes the other
How often have your kids 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, we want our kids to get along, and when we see one excluding the other, we feel compelled to nip it in the bud.
Still, there are better ways to address the issue 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 color alone. Is that right?”
- Acknowledge the right to personal space. Your kids are entitled to playing with whomever and with whatever they’re interested in. 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 totally fine for Alice to want to play alone, too. Sarah, remember how you were in your room earlier and had so much fun with your stuffed animals? Alice just wants to play alone, too—it’s not because of you.”
- Show your kids 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 coloring’ 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 times to play together later in the day. That way, the one who wanted to play understands that she just has to wait a little bit.
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 can 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 feels, because we can always find a better way to communicate.
My kids will likely 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.
Get more tips:
- 7 Things You Need to Do to Avoid Sibling Jealousy
- How to Get Your Child to Help with Younger Siblings
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
- Encourage Siblings to Get Along from a Young Age
- How to Get Your Twins to Stop Fighting
Tell me in the comments: What are your best sibling rivalry solutions?