It gets exhausting in the home when there are siblings fighting over every little thing. Here are some simple parenting strategies to use. Article originally written by Val Plowman, and updated by me.
The best of times and the worst of times.
Sibling relationships are like that.
Lots of good. Plenty of bad. The good warms your heart and the bad warms your blood pressure.
The question parents encounter is “What do I do when my kids fight?”
- Do you intervene or do you let the children settle it themselves?
- Do you ignore it?
- How do you respond to tattling?
None of these questions have simple, quick black and white answers, but I hope to give you a guide in how to handle quarrels among siblings.
How to minimize siblings fighting
All siblings will fight. It’s the nature of living with someone and sharing much of what’s in the house.
While you can’t completely eradicate it (and you wouldn’t want to because it teaches valuable skills), you can reduce it significantly.
1. Prevention is first – how to prevent fighting
I am a huge proponent of the idea of “prevention” for any problem you are facing (or concerned about facing someday). The first step to managing fights among your children is to prevent them.
Sounds nice, right?
One way to do prevent fights is to teach your child to love others. While children are naturally loving creatures, they are also naturally selfish (aren’t we all!).
Along the same lines of loving, foster a friendship between your children. Your children will be more motivated to work toward getting along if they are friends and not just siblings.
Teach your children how to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place
You can prevent by teaching your child how to prevent conflicts from happening–or rather conflict resolution in early stages of conflict.
- When your children disagree, talk about what happened and what could have been done to prevent the fight from happening in the first place.
- What things should have been done differently?
- What things should have been said and not said?
- How could they have been less selfish?
Children need to be taught these things.
You can also prevent by making sure your children are well-rested, well fed, and have a good routine going in life. This is setting your child up for success in playing with siblings.
Children are more likely to fight when bored, tired, and hungry.
2. Establish family rules about fighting and sharing
This is along the lines of prevention. Again, children aren’t necessarily born knowing how to treat other people.
Here are our rules for playing together
- Have rules like “absolutely no hitting each other,” or “absolutely no biting.”
- Have clear and immediate consequences when these things happen.
- We also have rules that activities like wrestling, pillow fights, and tickling are all okay so long as everyone involved wants to be involved.
- All parties must be consenting. As soon as someone wants to be done, that person gets to be done.
- I have a zero tolerance policy for physically harming each other.
I don’t care how mad the other person “made” you. It isn’t okay. My kids don’t get to play with other people if they hurt them. And while we are on the topic, my children are taught that no one makes them feel or do anything.
They choose their reactions to situations.
Establish rules for sharing, also. What are the sharing policies in your home? Decide and explain it to your children. Have clear consequences for when sharing becomes a problem.
3. Wait a bit before jumping in to referee a sibling fight
When you hear your children fighting, wait for a bit to see if they can work it out among themselves, assuming they are not physically harming each other.
I always give my children a chance to work it out and most of the time, they do.
Now remember, I have worked for them to have a positive relationship and I have taught them rules and how to prevent conflict. Now when they have conflict, it is practice time.
A lot of sibling conflict is short-lived and will be resolved quickly if we allow children the chance to work on it. But stay close by during the conflict resolution and in ear shot of the conflict.
There are times to intervene.
4. Intervene in the sibling spats when needed
Sometimes you do need to intervene.
- If your children are not working toward a solution and things are just escalating, intervene.
- Likewise, if they are hurting each other, intervene.
- If an older sibling is essentially taking advantage of younger children and “getting his way” unjustly, intervene.
Here is what intervention is not–it is not solving the problem for your children. You don’t walk in the room and try to get the full background story and then decide who ‘wins’ the argument.
When you intervene, you help the children solve the problem.
Say What You See® instead of solving their problems
Instead, you a principle from Language of Listening and Say What You See® with your kids. Without assigning value, you simply describe what you actually see.
Imagine this, one child set down a toy, then went into the kitchen to get a drink. Another child finds the toy, picks it up and plays. The first child comes back from the kitchen and is angry about the the toy.
They start fighting.
Then to the other child you’d say, “You saw a toy on the floor that no one was playing with, so you wanted to play with it!”
“Hmm, there must be some way you can both get a turn with that toy.”
This acknowledges the feelings of both children, which helps to de-escalate the situation.
Children aren’t naturally good at considering the point of view of others. Once you explain it, though, and ask them to imagine themselves in the other person’s position, they usually get it.
From Siblings Without Rivalry…
“Children should have the freedom to resolve their own differences.
Children are also entitled to adult intervention when necessary…but here’s the difference:
We intervene, not for the purpose of settling their argument or making a judgement, but to open the blocked channels of communication so that they can go back to dealing with each other” Siblings Without Rivalry*, Chapter 6
5. Separate the siblings when needed.
Like I said, I have zero tolerance for physically harming each other. If it happens, they are no longer allowed to play with each other for a length of time.
They like to play with each other, so this consequence is very suitable for attaining my desired results (don’t hurt each other).
Sometimes I find bickering happens when the children have been playing too long with each other. I try to have independent play time strategically positioned in the day.
If I am too late and the bickering is happening, we take a break for room time. After some time alone, the children are usually ready to play nicely with each other again.
Balance free play with structured play.
6. Respond to tattling with your kids
Something that I find highly grating to my nerves is tattling. Because of that, I need responses to tattling that will help me remain a nice person while dealing with the tattling.
Tattling is a delicate issue with children. We want our children to come to us when needed, but we also want them to work on solving their own issues. I don’t need to know every time someone looks at another person wrong.
Examples of what to say when children come to us and tattle
Sometimes when a child tattles, I ask a few questions.
- “What would you like me to do?”
- “What have you done to solve this?”
- “Do you need my help?”
My questions are sincere, of course, not sarcastic.
Sometimes I respond to ridiculous tattling (he looked at me!) in an overly dramatic and playful way…
“[GASP!] What should we do?!?!? Should we make him wear a blindfold for the rest of the day?”
The child always responds to such ridiculous suggestions with a half smile and a “no.” Then I move on seriously to, “Then what do you want me to do?”
With a little prevention, clear rules, a good schedule, and intervention when needed, your children can learn to get along with each other and learn how to solve issues themselves.
Always remember, however, that you are responsible for teaching them how to navigate life.
Take the steps necessary to guide your children toward a harmonious relationship.
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