Sibling rivalry and fighting is something almost every parent can relate to, if you have two or more children. The bickering, squabbling, or even physically hurting each other, is wrecking your head. This isn’t how you dreamed your family would be. Where’s the happy family you imagined?! Here’s what to do when your kids fight continually:
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The bickering between my two sons, that is now turning into punches, is driving me mad. I turn round and draw an imaginary line down the center of the back seat of the car.
“Now that’s your side and that’s your side. You each stay on your side of the car!” I instruct.
It’s not two minutes later when the younger one pipes up, “Mum, his finger’s on my side.”
The ongoing squabble and ridiculousness of it can sometimes make you feel like laughing, but more often it can wear a parent down. You can feel so frustrated when your children fight that you feel like crying – or yelling!
If sibling rivalry is an issue in your home and your kids keep being mean to each other, here are 7 helpful tips to flip the negativity into a positive outcome.
7 Useful Tips – What To Do When Your Kids Fight Continually
TIP #1 Remember, “This too will pass”
The “finger on my side of the car” is an incident from my own children’s growing years. Now it brings a smile to my face. They are adults now and have an easy relationship with each other. Even when they were little, although they could be mean to each other, I knew they’d stick up for each other if anyone else tried to hurt them. When you feel yourself getting wound up, step back and ask yourself,
“Will this be a big deal five hours from now / five weeks from now / twenty years from now?“
(Having said that, I do think unchecked mean behaviour can cause long-lasting emotional scars, so please read on).
TIP #2 Choose to Stay Calm
Sometimes we get so uptight about the fighting that our stress adds to the tension of the moment. Choose to be calm! It’s easy to end up grumbling, nagging or yelling, but that only adds to the tension. When you remain calm you restore calm. The strongest emotion wins! Want to know how to make sure you don’t fall into the yelling (or nagging, or scolding) trap? Click here for your “Stop the Yelling” downloadable poster.
TIP #3 Remember your children’s behaviour is about them, your response is about you.
It’s easy to let yourself think if you were a “better parent” this wouldn’t be happening. Sibling rivalry is normal, it’s what we do with it that counts. Keep in mind that their behaviour is about THEM – not about your parenting – and it will be easier to stay calm.
TIP #4 Calm everyone down BEFORE sorting out the issue.
When your children are in the middle of a fight they have gone into Fight, Flight or Freeze mode, which means the thinking, reasoning part of the brain is temporarily offline. You won’t be able to get any sense out of them, or help them to see any sense, whilst they are upset. If the upset is already underway, separate them and return to the topic only when you are all calm and able to think clearly.
TIP #5 Don’t Play Referee – be Coach
Once they are in a calm space to interact, rather than asking who started it, which only leads to blaming and excuse-making, use “What” questions to focus them on creating win-win solutions:
- So what do you want to see happen?
- And what do you think your brother/ sister needs to happen?
- And what else needs to happen?
- And what is the next step you can do now?
TIP #6 See the Positive in Kids Fighting
In childhood, our siblings are often our most helpful “tool” to learn how to navigate boundaries and how to negotiate solutions. Rather than thinking, “Oh no, they are being mean to each other again,” ask yourself, “How can I help them turn this into a meaningful lesson for life?”
For more insights on how to effectively facilitate your children’s interactions to create happier outcomes you might like to read this blog post “How to Stop the Kids Fighting”.
TIP #7 Fill Their Love Tanks
Kids often act mean when they are feeling demeaned. Rather than shaming and blaming them for “bad” behaviour make it clear what you DO expect from them – my book “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t” gives you a clear plan on how to set and hold limits to create happier family interactions.
Look at the bigger picture of your family life and create opportunities for getting out into nature, for having fun together, and creating opportunities that make each child feel uniquely loved, because “feel good” activities cause the body to release seratonin, which damps down cortisol, the stress chemical that causes us to become reactive. So for less stress and reactivity in the home, the best tonic for you all is more fun and more loving connection.
So what’s the bottom line?
You may also want to read our earlier post “Sibling Rivalry – What To Do When Your Kids Are Kids Being Mean To Each Other”
When your kids seem to fight continually, remind yourself it is “normal” – in fact, research shows that brothers and sisters between 3 and 7 years old engage in conflict 3.5 times an hour! So choose not to get uptight and sweat the small stuff.
Your key focus is #Tip 2 – “Stay Calm” because then you will be able to figure out what’s needed, which means you will be able to support them to learn more helpful ways of interacting. You’re on the path to raising emotionally intelligent young people.
An accredited Parent Coach can give you parenting support, and help you discover key insights and relationship skills to help your children learn to interact respectfully and to fight fairly. Discover more about Val Mullally’s work as a Parent Coach here.
We’d love to hear your experiences about what you do when your kids keep being mean to each other. Post your question or comment below.