I know, when your kids fight it can drive you completely crazy. Of course, when you separate them and they beg to play together again, it makes the whole situation more baffling. You are not alone in this. Most parents rank kids’ fighting with each other as the parenting issue that most bothers them, and that they feel least able to prevent.
Here are some principles and practices to lessen sibling rivalry and squabbling:
- Don’t ever compare your kids to each other or to any other child.
- Do give lots of individual attention. Kids who feel loved and accepted for who they are will be less likely to fight. I have seen sibling rivalry dramatically diminish in most households where parents commit to “specia ltime” with each child.
- Do intervene to keep kids occupied before they get bored and a fight erupts. Give attention BEFORE they fight.
- Do make sure your kids each get enough personal space. Kids should not have to share everything, or even most things.
- Keep tired and hungry kids away from each other and avoid situations that create fights. For instance, separate kids in the car as much as possible. If they do have to sit in adjacent seats, give them separate activities to keep themselves busy.
- Don’t give your older child responsibility for the younger one. Do not make the older child “watch” or play with the younger child. It’s the parents job to be in charge.
- Teach your kids basic negotiation and problem-solving skills guided by the concept of win/win: Taking turns, dividing a treat, trading, etc
- Enforce standards of respect in your home: Set up an expectation that if anyone calls someone a name or is disrespectful (this includes adults!), they need to “repair” the damage they’ve done to that relationship. This doesn’t mean your kids can’t disagree. It means that there is always a way to stay respectful, even if we’re angry.
- Help them be a team. Make your kids partners in avoiding fights with each other by setting up a “cooperation” jar and putting a coin in it every time you observe them being nice to each other. The kids then get to decide together how to spend the money.
- Set a good example. That means treating everyone, including your kids, respectfully.
- Empathize with your kids’ feelings about each other, but set definite limits on their actions. Kids are entitled to their feelings. However, all humans, even little ones, should be held responsible for what they do with their feelings. “When your brother messes with your things you get really angry. You can tell him how it makes you feel in words. We don’t hit.”
- Brainstorm with your kids on how to diffuse anger in others to resolve conflicts peacefully:“Acknowledge their point of view.” “Express your needs without attacking them.” “Stay respectful.” “Stay in the current issue, don’t bring up past conflicts.”
- Model conflict resolution with your spouse and other adults, as well as your kids. “Fighting” never works things out constructively. Instead, take a “cool-off” period and then come back determined to stay calm, acknowledge the other person’s view, express your own needs, and talk things out.
- Work to create an atmosphere of appreciation in your house. Every night at dinner, have each person find at least one specific thing to “appreciate” about each person.
- Remember they’re kids. All kids get mad at their siblings sometimes. The key is to remind them how to control themselves when they get angry so they can work things out.
All kids need help learning social skills for handling conflict, which is an important part of their emotional intelligence. We can’t expect them to know these skills if we don’t teach them. Your kids won’t change overnight! Don’t give up! Patience and consistency is key!