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My two oldest girls (almost 6 + almost 4) fight ALL. THE. TIME. I imagine it is only a matter of time before the baby (1 year) is brought into the melee. It’s what I imagine it’s like to have boys (sibling fighting) because there is often a brawl similar to a WWF wrestling match in the living room, on the breezeway or in their room when they are going at each other.
They lose their #$%! + then I lose my $#@% + it just gets ugly from there.
I’m an only child so this is unchartered territory for me that I vowed to get to the bottom of + FAST. Here’s what I found out + have started to put to work.
Why Do Siblings Fight?
In my research to get to the bottom of this sibling fighting, I first set out to find out why siblings fight to begin with. I mean, there’s probably some obvious reasons but I discovered there a LOT of underlying reasons that spark siblings to fight.
1. Sibling Fighting is Normal
It is perfectly normal behavior for siblings to fight with each other.
You can heave a little sigh of relief. I know I did.
In fact, child behavior experts say that sibling fighting can help prep your kids for the real world. It gives them the skills they need to negotiate + for conflict resolution.
Now, rolling around on the board room floor pulling hair, punching + yelling at one of their co-workers is PROBABLY not how you want them to resolve conflict + negotiate so the HOW to resolve conflict + negotiate are skills you have to work on with them.
We’ll get into that a bit later on.
2. Sibling Fighting Garners Attention + Gives Them Control
When the kids fight, you react so another reason that siblings fight is to get Mom or Dad’s attention. It’s on an unconscious level for the kids, but they soon come to realize that if they fight with each other or pick on their sister that Mom or Dad (or both) give them attention.
Second, it gives the kids control over you as the parent. Again, it’s more subconscious than on purpose, but kids are really smart. They quickly put two + two together to figure out that they can control Mom or Dad’s behavior + reactions (if you let them) by fighting with their sister.
It is no coincidence that as soon as you take a phone call from your old college roommate or you’re trying to schedule a doctor appointment that this is when your girls turn into Ronda Rousey + Stephanie McMahon.
3. Sibling Fighting Stems from Comparison
One child in the family tends to feel as if they don’t measure up to their sibling so it causes sibling fighting. As a parent, we have to be careful that we are not making statements that compare our children to one another. Often times, this is an inner feeling that the child has (whether parents are contributing to the feeling or not).
Because the child feels as if they don’t measure up to their sibling, they lash out at them + start a fight.
In the book, Siblings Without Rivalry, the authors conduct a group study. The authors ask the group what adults (parents) do to contribute to sibling fighting + sibling rivalry. The response from kids was that parents compare siblings.
Think about it. You know you’ve probably done + so have I. One kid is having a full-on meltdown + you mumble something like, “Why are you acting like this? Look at your sister. She’s not acting like this. She’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing — getting her PJs on for bed.”
The Siblings Without Rivalry book also provides suggestions on how to help your kids live together so that you (as parents) can live (in peace) too.
How to Stop Sibling Fighting
While some or all of these causes of sibling fighting might sound familiar to you, what in the heck can you do about it?
Check out these 10 ways to finally put an end to sibling fighting.
1. Model Behavior
My husband + I attended a family retreat on strengths-based parenting. One of my biggest takeaways from the retreat sessions was we model behavior for our children.
Worth repeating: We model behavior for our children.
We SHOW our children exactly HOW to act.
Our children act + react just like we show them to act + react to situations.
So if you + the hubs are fighting, yelling + screaming at each when there is some kind of a family conflict, guess what?
That’s how your kiddos think they need to act + react in order to resolve a conflict they’re having + in their situation it’s a conflict with their sister.
The same holds true for your reactions when a fellow driver cuts you off on the road or you have an issue returning an item at the customer service desk of the local department store.
If a driver cuts you off, instead of throwing F-bombs + shooting them the finger, say, “Wow, that driver cut me off. That’s dangerous but it’s OK. They must be in a hurry or maybe they didn’t see me.”
In your head, you can throw F-bombs + shoot them the middle finger 🙂
This models calm behavior to your children as a way of reacting to an unpleasant situation.
2. Allow Them to Express Their Feelings
Girls tend to hold in their emotions + not use their words to express their feelings. Instead, they bottle up their feelings until one day it explodes all over their sister.
Hence, the WWF match taking place in the middle of the living room.
So when my daughter yells at her sister saying, “I hate you. You’re the worst sister ever,” that is perfectly OK. She does have the right to feel like her sister is the worst sister ever.
Instead of shouting back at her that she shouldn’t say that, you should validate her feelings + say something along the lines of, “I can hear that you are angry with your sister. Good job using your words to express your feelings.”
3. Stay Out of It
As long as nobody is being hurt, stay out of the middle of sibling fighting. When a fight breaks out, stay calm + quiet. Allow them to work it out between each other + don’t intervene.
If violence or hitting breaks out then you might have to step in saying something along the lines of, “In this house, we use words, not hands to resolve issues.”
Allowing fighting siblings to work out their own differences is where they can acquire their conflict resolution skills.
4. Separate Them
I have found this works the best so far for my two fighting siblings. Send them to separate rooms for some time apart from each other. Not only does it diffuse the situation but it also gives you the opportunity to speak with each child one-on-one.
It gives each child the individual attention they might be seeking from you without their sister interrupting + allows them to give you their side of the story.
In the end, separating them usually allows whatever the fight was over to dissolve + they’re back playing together nicely 15 minutes or so later.
5. Divert Their Attention
For my girls, fighting is generally over an object, like a toy. The preschool teachers where both girls went or currently go, use terms like, “That was in Audrey’s hands so would you like to play with this truck until Audrey is done with the motorcycle?”
Most of the time, the kid takes the alternative toy (or whatever it is) + moves on. Sometimes, they don’t come back for the toy. Other times, they wait close by + when their sibling puts the coveted toy down, they scoop it up for their turn with it.
6. Celebrate Their Individual Strengths
Each of my daughters is soooooo different. Sure, they have some similarities (DNA will do that to ‘ya) but for the most part they are truly individuals — with their own likes, dislikes, personalities + characteristics.
Celebrate these differences with your family as a whole + with your child individually. I mentioned a retreat that my family + I attended on strengths-based parenting.
The premise of strengths-based parenting is determining what your strengths are as an individual + what your child’s strengths are as an individual. Once you know what each of your strengths are, you can help your child focus on their strengths (rather than focusing on their weaknesses + trying to turn them into strengths).
The book Strengths Based Parenting is ah-mazing. It helps you figure out what each of your strengths are + then walks you through how to parent a child with the strengths your children have + how to be a parent with the strengths you have.
The book does not cover the topic of sibling rivalry + sibling fighting BUT it does work with you on how to be the best parent to the child(ren) you have + it focuses on not comparing your children but rather celebrating their strengths + helping them to foster + nurture their strengths.
Indirectly, this all helps to eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) sibling fighting.
I highly recommend the book. (We also own the Strengths Based Marriage book, which I also highly recommend for your relationship with your spouse + building the marriage you want).
7. Give Them an Outlet
Give your kiddos some way to express their feelings that doesn’t involve punching their sister as hard as they can while holding her in a full Nelson. My girls LOVE art. They would paint, color, draw or make crafts All. DAY. LONG. if I let them.
When a fight breaks out, try to divert their attention with a creative activity they enjoy, such as art. This allows them to get their feelings out on paper (or some other medium) rather than out on their sister.
8. Make a Wish
My girls are into fairies + wishes so granting their wish is powerful to them. When one of them is having a conniption fit, simply saying, “I can see that your sister is making you angry + you wish that she would stop [insert whatever it is that she is doing at that moment to tick the other one off].”
Just making this statement, granting her wish, has an amazing way of diffusing the situation, validating the feelings of the upset daughter without really requiring any action on the part of the daughter that is pushing her sister’s buttons.
I’m like a fairy godmother 🙂
9. Don’t Take Sides
It takes two to fight (I know you were expecting make a thing go right + that’s true too). Avoid taking the side of one child. Avoid punishing the children at all or taking away the toy (or whatever) that is causing the problem.
Instead treat the children equally. They are both fighting + they are both in the wrong for doing so.
10. Teach Empathy
Separate the kids + circle back when everyone is calm. You can teach your kids to be empathetic to their siblings by asking, ” How do you think your sister felt when you took the car out of her hand?”
It helps your daughters to understand how other people feel by their actions + helps them to (hopefully) adjust their behavior the next time they are in the same situation so they won’t make their sister mad (sad, etc.).