Step right up, folks! In the right corner, we have your 3-year-old son, and in the left, we have your 5-year-old daughter, battling it out over toys, time, snacks, and practically anything else they can seem to argue about.
If this sounds like a slice of your life, you may be dealing with some pretty significant sibling fighting.
Before you read our tips to stop sibling fighting, it’s important to recognize the main reasons your children fight with each other in the first place. Some of them are simple, such as boredom and habit. Others can run a little deeper, including resentment and the simple fact that your children are all very different from each other. The final reason may be because your children can get away with it or have gotten away with it in the past. To keep fights at bay, you must utilize techniques that address one or more of these reasons.
1. Create anti-fighting kits—Since sibling fighting often arises out of boredom, giving your children activities to accomplish can help break up fights. This could include art kits, building kits, outdoor activities, musical instruments, or anything your kids enjoy doing. While you don’t have to always separate your children when they are fighting, it may be a good idea to encourage different activities in separate rooms if the fight was particularly loud.
2. Create and maintain expectations—Dealing with sibling fights is all about boundaries. Your children should expect that the same rules will be enforced wherever they are, whether they are at home, out in public, or visiting with relatives. These rules start with a conversation with your partner and any other caregivers to establish rules and time-out expectations. This way your children will know the consequences if they begin fighting, wherever they may fight.
3. Reward good behaviors—Instead of punishing bad behaviors, it is more effective to reward good behaviors. After a good day of getting along, you can take your children to the park as a reward. You can also create an “Acts of Kindness” wall where your family recognizes when your children are playing peacefully together or when one child does something kind for the other.
4. Teach conflict resolution skills—Teaching your children the skills they need to resolve conflicts on their own will help them at home as well as in the “real” world. This includes negotiations for compromising and how to divide and share toys. Respect and communication are other tools that are important to teach your children when it comes to conflict resolution.
5. Understand the difference between fair and equal—As a parent, it’s important to be fair by not comparing one child to another, lavishing one child with gifts and privileges, or failing to enforce punishments fairly. However, because your children are likely different ages, punishments and privileges will not always be equal. Older children will have more privileges but also are old enough to know better than to engage in some behaviors. The opposite is true for your younger children. By protecting each child’s differences and giving your children some individual time with you, you can improve their sense of security in the family.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- Sibling fights are a natural part of growing up. Reasons for fighting can include boredom, resentment, and habit.
- Defining clear rules and punishments and enforcing them uniformly can reduce sibling fighting.
- Rewarding positive behaviors and teaching children conflict resolution skills can also help.