Stop the Fighting! A Little Help for Sibling Squabbles.
SIBLING SQUABBLING….If I could give you one easy solution to end sibling squabbles, I’d be a millionaire tomorrow. But unfortunately, fighting among siblings is an age-old problem. It goes back as far as recorded history. (remember Cain and Abel?…That one didn’t end so well.)
There is not one easy solution, but I can offer some tools and tricks that have helped when the bickering begins in our home.
And though my boys are not perfect, and believe-you-me we have our moments, I can honestly say that overall, they get along really well.
In fact, (don’t tell him I told you this, but,) my fifteen year old and I were driving in the car a few days ago, and out of the blue he told me that his brothers (13, and 10) are so much his very best friends that he cannot imagine living away from them ever.
(I wiped my tears and acted like that was a totally normal thing for a fifteen year old to say.)
So, what are the tricks and tips? Well, I’ll break it down to two broad age categories, and then you can adjust accordingly to your kids’ ages and maturity levels.
Before I do that though, I want to say two things:
First, I think that some amount of fighting among siblings is healthy and normal. Kids need to figure things out. They need to learn conflict resolution skills, and sometimes the best thing we can do is leave them alone. You have to decide for your own family where to draw the line. Personally, I think that a bit of disagreement is fine, as long as kids wrap it up, or come to a conclusion quickly. When it turns to yelling, name calling, or getting physical, it has gone too far. Usually, it’s pretty clear when it is headed that way, so Mom and Dad should intervene before it gets ugly.
Second, I encourage you to try looking at your kids’ fighting with a different perspective: Begin to see sibling squabbling as a really good opportunity to train. I mean, most of the time, your kids are fighting in the privacy and security of your own home, right? This is the ideal setting for training, discipline, and teaching some powerful life lessons. If you are anticipating the problem, and equipped to handle it when it happens, then you have a great opportunity. Don’t be caught off guard like this is some strange new behavior–Kids will fight! And when they do, they are setting themselves up for your swift (unemotional, but firm) response.
I know this sounds easier than it is. We have other things to do at home, and kids don’t always choose the best timing to enter into combat. But if you can be on your game, I believe you can nip a lot of this in the bud, and even have some fun doing it!
Here’s my best suggestions for…
TODDLER through ELEMENTARY AGE:
It is important to teach your young kids all kinds of character qualities, all day long. Hopefully you are talking about being kind, helping others, and sharing. They might go to preschool or Sunday School and get even more of that.
But even if your toddler is not mature enough to understand the principles of kindness and generosity, he or she will absolutely understand CAUSE AND EFFECT. If you can give a swift consequence for undesirable behavior, and do it consistently, your child will learn. So, if two (or more,) kids are fighting over a toy, and Mom walks in the room and very firmly but very calmly removes the toy, every kid will learn a lesson. You can say, “You fight over the toy, you lose the toy.” The end. Walk away. Smile. Hum a tune.
If one of the children is clearly in the wrong or being a bully, then certainly follow up by giving that child whatever consequence you use for disobedience.
If removing the toy causes any (or all) of the kids to throw fits or act out–you should also follow-up by dolling out consequences swiftly, and unemotionally.
Side note: I do not suggest you get in the middle and start refereeing, trying to hear all sides of the story, because my friends, that can take you down a very long and dark rabbit hole. I’ve been there a time or two and it just never ends well.
Fighting over a toy? Remove the toy.
Video game battle? Unplug it.
Fighting over a cookie? Take it and throw it away (or let Mom eat it. and make sure they see how good it tastes.)
Cause/Effect…Behavior/Consequence…Call it life training. (and that is pretty much our job. :))
The bottom line: Make sure that the consequence for the fighting is always more UNPLEASANT than any pleasure brought on by the fight.
Kids must never be rewarded for fighting.
And then, when everyone has simmered down again, you have a great teaching moment to reinforce a lesson on being kind, taking turns, etc.
MIDDLE SCHOOL through HIGH SCHOOL YEARS:
By the tween and teen years, kids are mature enough to understand much more about their behavior and consequences. You as parents need to determine what the specific house rules are, and make them clear. Since they are getting older now, I suggest giving kids even more of a chance to work things out on their own. I think it is important to find some time (when they are NOT in the middle of a fight) to talk to kids about getting along, and point out some of the benefits of learning to get along now…Talk about future relationships, and how their ability to get along with a brother or sister now will prepare them for having a roommate in college, or a coworker at a job. (Or a husband or wife!) Somehow it is easier to get their attention when you shift their focus from the annoying sibling at home, to the goal of having good relationships in the future. Talk to your kids about character qualities like tolerance, cooperation, and choosing to overlook someone’s faults. Remind them that they are also not perfect. 😉
Then, when the fighting begins (because, lets be honest–it will!) your older kids need to know how to stop it in its tracks. I have taught my boys that it is the more mature one who is able to quietly walk away from a fight. That can be one of the hardest things they do all day, but it’s a useful life skill if they master it when they are young! (And when they do it, I try my best to notice and quietly nod in approval.)
For the times that they don’t just walk away, have set consequences in place. Let them know what exactly will happen if they cannot stop the fight before the parent has to.
So…IF they choose to fight, they should know that they must want to fight so badly that it is worth losing their phone for the week…or doing yard work instead of whatever plans they had on the weekend.
At any age: The consequence must be worse than whatever it is they get out of fighting.
And keep in mind: A swift consequence outweighs a hundred useless lectures, any day.
Now for my short list of useful tools to help stop fighting in its tracks, (or at least bring some laughter into the middle of it all,)
1. When you catch your kids mid-argument, stop and make them hug (and kiss if you dare.)
This one lightens the mood EVERY TIME.
2. A creative consequence for fighting: Assign them each the job of cleaning the other person’s bedroom. (ouch.)
3. Another consequence: Assign them a dirty, miserable chore that they have to do together. One that requires teamwork. And make sure you are near enough so that they cannot fight while they do the chore.
4. If you’re in the car and kids cannot keep their hands to themselves, simply make them sit on their hands for the rest of the car ride. A good friend taught me this, and it works like magic! (An added benefit: Somehow sitting on hands usually quiets their mouth as well.) This one works every time.
5. When younger kids are fighting, you can explain that it wears mommy out so much that everyone will have to go to bed twenty minutes earlier than usual on days that they fight. (then the next time they begin to fight you can begin with “oh no, if this goes on everyone will have an early bedtime tonight…”)
If kids know that you’ve got these consequences just waiting for them, they will likely take you much more seriously.
I hope something here was helpful, and now it’s your turn:
Let me now what you’ve done to curb the fighting, or what your biggest challenge is in this area!
And I would be so happy if you pinned or shared this with your friends and family using the social media buttons below!
Parenting…is NOT for the faint of heart! Be strong Moms and Dads!
Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child’s Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days
Bringing Up Boys
I have three boys, ages 23 months, 4 years, and 7 years. For sibling squabbles, we’ve tried making the older two run laps around the backyard, do jumping, do an extra chore. Most of the time they flat out refuse to do whatever assignment they have been given. What do you do when they refuse the consequence?
Sounds like you’re doing some really good stuff! If they refuse…make the consequences worse, haha. 🙂 Truly, Cloud and Townsend, in their book Boundaries for kids, say: “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” Hang in there. Big hugs 🙂
Great article. I created an app for a “Kid of the Day” where basically every day a different child gets to decide all the little disputes. It is completely free and without ads. I hope it helps many parents and their kids.
Thanks so much for this advice! I have a 1 1/2 yr old boy with my husband and a 10 yr old step-daughter from his previous marriage, and he of course wants to emulate her and do what she’s doing, but she is completely unwilling to share or take any time out to be with him — which of course leads to a cranky baby who wants to then stop her from doing that thing that she doesn’t want to stop doing to spend time with him, and a downward spiral until I intercede and remove my son from the situation. I haven’t wanted to discipline her because I can imagine how difficult it must be to adjust to life as a sibling, but these creative ways of turning disagreements into bonding moments are the food-for-thought that I needed! I never gave any thought to the gratification they must feel from fighting before reading this (and the gratification she probably gets from “winning,” as I always just start playing with my son and let her keep doing whatever it is that she’s doing), but now that I realize that that ultimately is what their interactions devolve into, I think I know exactly how to nip it in the bud!
This is my first visit to your website but I love your style and wisdoms, and am so impressed by your wonderful family! Will definitely be subscribing. 🙂
I raised two boys. When they started fighting in the back seat of the car I would pull over to the side of the street, park, and say nothing. Questions would come from the boys, “Why did you stop? I remained quiet. Soon, and very soon I heard these words, “We will stop fighting,” The rest of the trip was peaceful!
I like that Beth!! Thanks for sharing. It requires patience and self control on your part (something I’m working on, haha!) but I do see how effective that would be! Well done, Momma!
Great article! Just in time for summer when my boys spend “too much” time together (and the fighting increases!) One thing I’ve done if they start “name-calling” (which I won’t tolerate), I make them say 5 nice things about each other!
Perfect. Easy and so do-able!! Thanks for commenting! aloha! 🙂
Once I made my children write each other a love letter. It had to include three things they admired about the other one and an apology for their behavior. They were informed that if they did not write a sincere letter, and I was the judge of that, then they would write another one. That was about 15 years ago, and we still have those letters. This was following a particularly explosive conflict. It worked to diffuse the situation, but I can’t say that the conflicts lessoned. Their opposite personalities can still flare up even as young adults.
That’s awesome, Bonnie. Even if it didn’t solve the problem, I love that you still have the letters today. Something good came out of it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Aloha-
I have three boys, so fighting is a daily struggle for us. I love the idea of having them sit on their hands in the car. Going to try that one this weekend as we take off for our 4th of July vacation.
Some tactics that have worked for us are:
-have them run around the block, side by side, not one way ahead of the other. our block is 1/2 mile.
-give them a trash bag and make the two fighting work together and pick up trash alongside a road/pond. They can’t come back until it is filled.
-throw football back and forth, or shooting basketball, saying a kind word about each other every throw/shot.
– drive 20 nails in a 2×4 and then pull each one out. This is a great one for them to do together.
Raising boys is so much fun! We tend to make a lot of their consequences physical. Jumping jacks, burpees, etc…
You are a smart parent!!! 🙂 Love all of your ideas and yes, with boys using physical consequences is especially helpful! Thanks for sharing! Aloha-
Great article!!! I was just complaining to my mom yesterday about how much these boys (ages 5 and 7) whine and fuss with each other. I remember what she did when my sisters and I fought…. each one of us, on opposite sides of the glass door or any other low window, with a cloth and a bottle of Windex!!!!! That usually worked AND got the door clean!!!
Thanks Amy! I’m absolutely gonna try the windex solution! Love it. (smart mama!) Aloha~~
I teach and coach on leadership and communication. As parents we have to become leaders. Study leadership and grow your influence! It’s not only for business.
Best tip? Kids often argue to establish pecking order. Take it away. I had 2 girls and we used odd days/even days. Wanna sit in the front seat? Go first? Have the bigger piece? One girl was odd days, one was even. Much less fighting!
An addition that I use when making them do chores together is the Getalong shirt. I read about it somewhere a while back. I get one of my husbands shirts and make them wear it ( they each put an arm in, and I button up the front) while doing a chore together. It makes them figure out how to complete a chore together and do it without fighting. If they decide to fight, they get another chore!
When our children fought we were concerned. The youngest (by 7 years) would come in and whallop the oldest as he laid on the couch watching tv. Huh? Are you serious? Trey would get up angry. I told him “Trey, he just wants your attention”. I saw the look transpire, he understood. Trey went after him but soon I heard Nathan Laughing “No, Trey no” but still laughing. They are great friends today.
Our middle child, Rachel was not as nice to Nathan, they are about 4 years apart. For awhile it really bothered me. Not anymore. I did talk with her and Nathan and that worked, somewhat. It was just to much, I couldn’t stand it. Today they are good friends.
For discipline we used a chart. Chores, misbehavior all had consequence. If you did this or did not do that, here is your result. And we stuck to it. Very soon they asked “How many warnings do we get?” So we told them. It was not long before they saw the structure and worked with in it. The best part? It removed most emotion for the parents.
Today 2 are in college, one in high school. Now that is an entirely different story. As parents we really need to enjoy the time with them, it just goes to fast.
Such a good reminder…Perspective is everything and sometimes it is so hard when you’re in the thick of it! 🙂 Thank you. aloha
Love, love, love your ideas! One thing that works well for me is an idea i stole from a speaker I heard once. He suggested ‘family court’ for sibling arguments. All those involved in the argument “take it to the bench” (in my house, that’s the couch). They sit there until they can tell me what they-themselves did wrong…not what anyone else did, but only themselves. They take responsibility for that action, apologize (a full 4 part apology) to the other sibling and ask for forgiveness. Anyone not feeling particularly forgiving yet, may need another minute or two on the bench. I like that they have to accept responsibility for their own part of the argument, even if “she/he started it”.
Wow Erin, that is classic! I love the “family court” idea! Brilliant! Thanks for sharing! Aloha
Love this Monica! I’m type A and so I enjoy having things laid out in a practical way! I’ll be adding these tips to my training repertoire! I’m also trying to challenge myself to bring more of the Word of God into our training. As a Christian mom, it’s my desire to apply the Word to daily life. This of course includes sibling squabbles! I’ve been through seasons of having them write a verse or sharing a bible story but now that their getting older I want to actually take them to the Word and dig in deeper together! Sooooo…we have a 3×5 card box with tabs from A-Z. When a squabble comes up, or even a character issue one of the boys is working on (ie. self-control of his anger) we’ll go to the Word and see what it has to say about that specific issue. Then we write the verse on a 3×5 card and file it under the appropriate letter (P=peace “blessed are the peacemakers” Matt 5:9). Eventually, we’ll have a treasure box full of God’s truth that will not return void in my boys hearts! We can keep adding to it and refer to it whenever something comes up!
(I have the box, tabs and cards ready! I’m anxiously awaiting the first squabble… ; > )
I think this is the best post I’ve seen in a long time about sibling fighting and parenting in general. It has some very simple and effective solutions. I covered this topic on my own blog a while back where I did a comparison of it to bullying and how tough it would be to have to live with your bullier. I have two Scout brothers where I suspect the parents have allowed this to be true and as a Scout leader it makes me sick. I’m not sure how to help, but I may forward this article on to the parents as a start.
Wow, Adrian–Such an interesting observation. We know a surf family like that as well, and it breaks my heart too.
I hope the post might give some subtle hints. 😉 Much Aloha and thanks for commenting!
great advice! Thanks a lot Monica!! Will try it out next time.. and next time will come for sure.. especially the one with ‘sit on their hands while being in the car’… had to send this immediately to my husband.. and had to smile.. and I am sure he will too :-)..
Again I have to say that I am so glad that I found your page and that we are now connected. So good to share with someone who has boys too. It is different to have boys and that really helps and gives a great support and always anyway great to hear from you from so far away … hugs, sandra
Thank you Sandra! What encouraging words…I appreciate it. Hope it helps and definitely keep in touch! aloha-
Wise advice, Monica! I guess I am lucky because most of our squabbles are at home. My kiddos are usually picture perfect in the public eye. But at home, my guys can be so physical when they fight. My husband asserts that boys wrestle, kick, slap,etc. I am just not comfortable with that. I’m still learning how to end that. My little guy just seems to need so much physical contact- hugs and scuffles. I will certainly try your suggestions. I especially like the partnership chore and making them hug and kiss!
Perfect timing for your blog on sibling rivalry. I will use most all of the ideas. I have a 6 yr. old boy, 12 yr old girl & almost 16 yr old boy. My oldest enjoys messing with his sister. Sometimes he goes too far with insulting comments/jokes. We had him write a long list of everything he loves & appreciates about her. It helped heal on both sides & set a beautiful perspective for both of them to realize how much words can hurt or heal. I think this has helped us in many different ways. I try to make the consequence relative to the dirty deed in hopes it can shed light at the same time & offer empathy.
Thank you for your words…
One thing I have found works pretty good along with staying right on top of any issues and consistency is positive reinforcement. We have a jar that my kids can earn beans by doing nice things throughout the day. At the end of our day we sit down together as a family and point out anything nice that each person has done. Then they get a bean for each. I have told them once the jar is full we will have a special party for them choosing to be nice. Even my almost 2 year old understands if she is nice then she gets beans. Thank you for this article. You definitely have some great ideas on difusing the situation and realistic ideas on how to help them decide to be less combative with their siblings. I have passed this on to my sisters. I love your blog!
Chantel–I love your bean system! Brilliant! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
And nice of you to pass this on–much Aloha!
Me and my three siblings never fought. *lies*
Some really good advice here. We all get on really well now, probably because my folks were good at doing this stuff exactly how you describe it. 🙂
Also, Josiah is a legend. That is all.
Thank you Greg. Same w/ me and my bro’s–although it was all their fault for sure–I was a pretty perfect child. 🙂 haha Now we are super close though, so that is super special.
Yes, Josiah is, I have to agree. 🙂 I’d love for you to spend time w/ him now, he’s grown up so much since you were here, and only better with time!