When children fight, it is natural for parents to be concerned. They wonder how to get them to stop fighting and how to prevent future problems. This article will offer insights about what you can do to prevent sibling squabbles and help them get along.
Reasons why sibling fights occur
There are a number of factors that might contribute to siblings fighting. Sometimes one or both siblings have a physical need that isn’t being met. As a result, they fight in response to physiological cues which signal they need to do something for those needs to be met. They also might have to learn new skills that help them navigate their challenges. The following is a list of common reasons why siblings fight.
- Perceived favoritism
- Differing temperaments
- Lack of conflict resolution skills
- Difficulties with emotion regulation
- Challenging family dynamics
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Common situations that lead to sibling conflict
Situation #1: Major life changes
It is natural for children to feel on edge or uncertain when they are experiencing a major life change. In response to this change, the children are likely experiencing a wide range of emotions and might not know what to do with those feelings. When emotions become too overwhelming, they might take it out on each other. Examples of major life changes include
- Parent separation or divorce
- Death in the family
- Navigating a new health condition in the family
- Even changing schools can be experienced as a big change for a child
Addressing major life changes
If your family is navigating a major life change, it is important to set time aside to talk about it. By inviting space for your kids to address their own emotions, you are being proactive and are giving them space to express their emotional reactions and needs in a healthy way. This also teaches them emotion regulation skills which are important for navigating future stressful events. This can also strengthen their relationship, helping them turn towards each other when they are stressed out.
Situation #2: Being excluded
Another common situation is when one child excludes the other from joining an activity. Sometimes the exclusion can be a result of an obvious statement made, such as “go away!” or “These are MY friends, not yours!” Other times, the exclusion can be a result of behaviors that would make any child feel unwelcome such as name-calling or power struggles.
As a parent, you can prevent exclusion by helping your children value sibling relationships. It can also be helpful to teach kids empathy, helping one child understand the other child’s point of view. Sometimes exclusion can also be caused when older kids perceive situations as if they are constantly having to “babysit” their younger siblings. It would be worth having a conversation with the older children if this is part of the problem.
Situation #3: Challenges with sharing
Difficulties with sharing are another common reason fights break out. The classic situation is when two children want to play with the same toy. It is also common for one child to start playing referee, dictating how long each person gets to spend with the toy. When the second child perceives it as an unbalanced amount of time, sibling fighting begins.
Addressing challenges with sharing
The classic remedy to this problem is to help children learn how to take turns. The parent may need to supervise sharing time while they are learning this skill. Teach your kids to say things like, “I’m all done. Now you can have a turn with the stuffed animal.”
Situation #4: Sibling rivalry
Sibling rivalry often results when one or both children perceive that they are being treated differently. They may become jealous when their sibling receives praise or attention, as their perception of favoritism grows every time their brother or sister gets attention. It is also common for siblings to get into a blame game any time there is a sibling fight because they long to be accepted. Another reason for rivalry is having a competitive atmosphere.
Addressing sibling rivalry
When your children are fighting due to rivalries, it is a sign that they need equal parental attention in everyday life. Prevention is the best way to overcome rivalry but there may be some immediate steps that need to be taken if things escalate in the moment. If the fight escalates to physical aggression, parents need to separate them so they can calm down. Encourage kids to use positive coping skills to recover from the incident.
Situation #5: Age differences
Kids have different needs depending on the developmental stages they are in. Younger children need more time and attention, while older children might crave more independence. This can cause fighting when older children perceive younger children as “too clingy.”
Addressing age differences
Parents can consider the birth order of their children when working out problems related to age differences. The youngest, middle, and eldest child will each have unique needs. If you are using time-outs as a disciplinary measure, consider reframing it depending on your child’s age. It’s great to reframe it as a coping skill rather than a punishment. Older kids tend to respond better to the idea of “alone time” or “getting some space.” Younger kids might respond better to short breaks.
How to prevent sibling fighting before it begins
The best way to prevent fighting is by creating a family environment that is less likely to become escalated when something goes wrong through a proactive approach. Here are some tips on how to create a space where children behave better!
Tip #1: Schedule meaningful family time
One of the best preventative measures is to schedule time when your kids are able to have meaningful family time. Schedule time for all family members to spend time together in addition to one-on-one time if you have more than one child. You know your own family dynamic so use your understanding of the family system when bringing everyone together to determine the amount of time that makes sense.
Overall, spending time together will help prevent favoritism, as all of your children will have opportunities to feel included, connected, and supported.
Tip #2: Teach emotional awareness
Help your kids learn emotional vocabulary words and consider using a feelings wheel when they are young. When children share how they are feeling, they are naturally more empathetic. Communicating feelings helps kids to reduce fighting, increase self-esteem, and increase healthy communication skills.
Tip #3: Encourage problem-solving
Teach your kids problem-solving skills. If your children are able to manage conflict on their own, it will help them work things out before a disagreement escalates into a fight.
Tip #4: Remain calm
When you are trying to handle conflict with your kids, do your best to stay calm. Your kids will be watching your response, so it is important for you to model conflict resolution skills for them. Take deep breaths and slow yourself down before intervening. Avoid taking opposite sides when each kid shares their side of the story. Your job is to listen and provide a neutral response to help both kids feel heard.
Tip #5: Seek help
It is okay to seek help! Ask other parents for their invaluable tips on how they keep their kids close. Involve another family member if you need help from other adults and don’t hesitate to reach out to a child psychologist if you’ve reached that point.
Uncontrolled sibling fights can lead to adult sibling rivalry
When siblings have unresolved problems from childhood, it is common for that conflict to continue into adulthood. Sibling fights as adults can be the result of continued resentment from how they treated one another when they were kids. In some cases, it may be a side effect of perceived parental favoritism. In other cases, one may still be waiting for an apology from the other regarding how they were treated. Sometimes there are other factors influencing their relationship and they never got a chance to express why they were upset with how things were going.
By learning ways to manage conflict in their relationship during childhood, your kids will have a better chance of having a meaningful sibling relationship as adults.
Kids fight, but they can learn to communicate
Every family goes through the process of learning how to manage kids fighting. By learning these skills and tips, you can prevent problems from escalating. Kids are resilient and capable of learning skills such as problem-solving and emotional regulation, which will ultimately help them communicate in a healthy way.