It’s a weekday morning and we are getting ready for school. I come into the kitchen to find my two boys, ages 7 and 10, fighting with each other in the kitchen, yet again. They are slapping each other and spanking each other’s bottoms.
I haven’t had my morning coffee and I start to get irritated. “Boys, you know the rules. No fighting in the kitchen!”
On another occasion, after school, they are having a huge argument outside. My oldest grabs his plastic baseball bat, my youngest picks up his skateboard. Their anger is boiling and they are ready to battle. I have to rush outside to intervene and separate them.
As a parent, I really find it difficult not to interfere, even during trivial play fighting. I have to remind myself that some bickering is normal and that they need to work out their disagreements for themselves. I have been working on trying to pause and assess whether I think they are looking for attention from me, whether I should simply leave the room and let it fizzle out, or whether I think things are escalating and I need to take action to separate them.
I have also noticed that when the fighting is more serious, it is really hard for me not to take sides. I naturally want to protect my youngest. I have realized, though, when I do take sides, the fighting gets more intense, occurs more often, and there is less cooperation overall between my sons.
So what can you do when your children are fighting?
I now routinely refer to the 3 B’s: Bear it, Beat it, or Boot them out!
Bear it: When you arrive on the scene, without interrupting, make sure your presence known and ignore the fighting. If you are patient, you can simply wait until the bickering resolves. Many times they are simply looking for attention from us.
When my boys start fighting, whether it is play fighting or during a disagreement, I always have to stop ask myself “Where was I and/or my husband before this started”. Nine times out of 10, we have been in another room, and away from them for an extended period of time. This is generally a clue that they are looking for attention from us.
Beat it: Once your presence is known, you can choose to leave the room and find a quieter place, until they stop. Once they realize we aren’t going to take sides, they will often resolve the disagreement more quickly.
Boot them out!: If they are really rowdy, send them outside.
If the fighting has become more intense or dangerous, you can do the following:
- simply separate the children without taking sides. You can then send them to separate areas to calm down.
- Once they have calmed down, you can listen to each of their point of views and acknowledge their feelings.
- Then you can work together to find a possible solution for dealing with the situation in the future.
Some other tips that can help with feuding siblings are:
Letting children express their feelings about each other. As a parent, instead of discounting their feelings, you can acknowledge their anger and frustration. Identifying their feelings such as “You sound furious, and you wish he would have asked you before taking your toy”, can help dissipate their anger when they know that you are aware and understand.
Don’t compare your children. Avoid comparing siblings or praising one sibling over the other, which causes jealousy. Comparisons can impact a child’s self esteem and may also lead to the jealous child trying to get even. Choose instead to comment only on the behavior that displeases you.
Treat children as individuals, not equals. How many times do we buy an article of clothing for one of our kids, and feel like we have to buy one for the other to be fair? This practice of trying to treat all of our children equally, can actually increase comparisons among siblings and they will find more ways you are not being fair. You can choose instead to give to each child based on their individual needs. You can also tell each child privately what special qualities you notice and love about them.
Before I found Positive Discipline tools and strategies, my eldest harbored a lot of resentment for his younger brother and seemed to pick fights with him constantly. Now, even though we have the occasional blow out fight (like with the baseball bat and skateboard), they mostly play fight and wrestle with each other. I don’t always handle the fights like I should, especially if I haven’t had my morning coffee. But, I continue to strive for progress, one small step at a time, as I continue on my parenting journey.
For more help or support with sibling challenges, don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss one of our private classes or coaching programs.