Is sibling fighting driving you crazy? Are you sick of being the referee? Most parents are ok with sibling fighting some of the time, but what if it is nearly all of the time? When siblings are always fighting parents need to get involved. Here are FIVE ways to reduce sibling fighting and increase harmony at home:
- Think of your child as having a problem rather than being a problem
Sibling fighting can happen on a daily basis. Families can be in a habit of siblings fighting with parents spending a lot of energy reacting to disputes. Our kids are hard-wired to get our attention and even negative attention is better than being ignored. The fastest way to get a parent’s attention can be pinching your brother under the table.
Siblings are often cast in roles in families – one child is seen as “the victim” and the other child is ” the aggressor” or problem child. Sibling fighting usually involves a parent attributing blame. Parents can actually cause more sibling fighting by becoming the referee.
Target the cause of sibling fighting by looking for the causes. This requires changing our mindset.
See the child who is seen as the problem child as having a problem not being a problem.
This allows us to have empathy for their struggle and find a way forward. Consider the triggers for sibling fighting. Do outbursts happen at a particular time of the day? Low blood sugar, tiredness and overwhelm can trigger sibling fighting. Are feelings driving the behaviour? Common feelings that trigger sibling fighting are jealousy and feeling overlooked. There are many other causes of sibling fighting which actually have nothing to do with what is going on between siblings but it appears in the interactions with their siblings. If your child is feeling unsuccessful at school or with friends this can also be a cause of sibling fighting.
Spend time identifying triggers to help understand what’s going on for your child.
- Talk about feelings and show how to let the anger out, safely
No one can press our buttons like a sibling. Sibling fighting is often about children fighting to get their needs met. There is a limited amount of time and energy that parents can divide up amongst their children. The frustration of competing for a parent’s attention is real. All those feelings build up and kids will bite, hit and scream.
Kids act poorly when they can’t find the words to express themselves. Being able to express emotion in an appropriate way, without biting a sibling, is a really useful thing. Parents can teach emotional literacy by staying calm and modelling “I feel….” statements. When a parent says “I feel hurt when you said that the lasagne I made is “YUK”” we help foster this emotional literacy.
Kids need to be shown safe ways to let out strong emotion, instead of biting. In the moment we need to have some calming down time. To respond effectively in the moment see this post: here
The immediate response of getting everyone to calm down is not a solution to sibling fighting. The long term solution takes time – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The process includes using whatever skills you have to hand and it’s important to allow time for your child to mature. As they mature you will be able to teach your child how to manage anger and sometimes it is deep anger that is stirred up by sibling fighting.
Children (especially ones who feels things strongly) will need parents to teach them strategies to manage strong emotion when everyone is calm, not in the middle of a meltdown. Kids can’t access the learning when they are not calm. Eventually your child will be able to manage feelings in a safe way and to use words like an “I feel….statement”.
There are plenty of adults who haven’t mastered how to manage emotion yet, so give your kids time to get there.
- Be a good listener
In order for our kids to talk to us we need to be good listeners. And we have to learn when to listen. Usually our children will need us to do some important listening right when we are in the middle of something else. There are so many demands on parents, many are urgent and important. It’s hard to stop. Stuff has to get done – we can’t always answer every single demand. Develop an antennae to detect when it is something important to your child. Being available like this builds relationship and reduces the need to take frustration they may have out on their sibling.
- Have rules
Rules like – “You can’t call your brother names” are never going to work. We can’t expect kids to be best friends but we can find other ways to reduce conflict in hot spots. We can have rules about toys and special things. A high value item like a birthday gift may not have to be shared for a period of time to make sure the owner feels they have had exclusive use. You might like to keep it in that person’s room or somewhere safe if the children share rooms. Communal toys can be kept where everyone can access them.
- Notice the good things siblings already do together
You’ve been so busy noticing all the fighting siblings do that it could surprise you how well kids do get along.
Think teamwork. When we make a point of noticing when teamwork happens, kids are more likely to repeat it.
Sibling fighting reduces when we speak to children in a way that encourages more cooperation. Read about how to do this using a skill called descriptive praise: here
- Sibling fighting is normal
Sibling fighting increases when children are close in age and the same gender. Knowing this may help us to feel better about it, but if you are upset by sibling fighting, you’re not alone.
Practice these strategies above to help reduce sibling fighting and if you’re keen to learn more there are others you can use which are included in the sibling section of our 10 week course. Get in touch to find out more about what you can do to help reduce sibling fighting and change the atmosphere in your home.