Why can't they just get along? Are your kids fighting? Is it driving you crazy? Here's help.
It can be the bane of parents’ existence. On the one hand, as a parent, you love each of your children fiercely.
And on the other hand…you ache inside and feel frustrated watching them hurt each other.
Here’s some news for you: it’s normal!
Does it help to hear that?
I remember the first time I heard it – it felt like a weight lifted from my chest.
What is Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between siblings.
It is a common problem for almost all parents who have two or more kids.
Sibling rivalry usually continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful for parents.
What Sibling Rivalry Looks Like In My House
My three young boys are best friends and mortal enemies wrapped up in one.
One minute they are laughing and playing great (even sharing!). Literally 30 seconds later one or all three of them are screaming, crying, and trying to rip each other to pieces.
I kept thinking: why do they do that? Why don’t they just tell each other that they don’t like whatever their brother is doing? Does the situation have to get to screaming, crying and tattling on each other every time?
Why Does Sibling Rivalry Happen?
It might help to give some perspective as to why children fight. The reasons can vary; here are a few:
- Their personalities clash
- Sharing their parents’ attention is tough
- They are different ages and at different stages of development
- They are growing humans who test boundaries
Basically, young children aren’t able to express these frustrations verbally, so they do it by misbehaving—yelling, hitting, kicking, pushing, throwing things, refusing to share, etc.
How does know this information help us deal with sibling rivalry? Knowing where the problem likely stems can help us in how we choose to react to our children fighting.
For example, I am 100% guilty of sending my kids to timeout and taking away privileges when the fighting starts.
My thinking at the time was that if I could stop the active fighting, it would help everyone hit the reset button and end the conflict.
How wrong I have been!
Not only did timeout often not stop the fight (they would just pick up where they left off when I let them out of the timeout), it seemed to make it worse.
Or in the case of lost privileges, they just blamed each other and switched the reason for the fight to the blame for lost privileges.
Then I realized that my reactions weren’t helping my kids. I wasn’t teaching them conflict resolution skills or how to compromise or how to understand each other’s feelings.
These skills are all needed as adults in order to live happy lives and have successful and meaningful relationships.
So I had to change my response.
I realized that we needed to teach our boys how to:
- use their words to express how they are feeling (rather than using their hands or feet)
- show empathy and work to understand where the other person is coming from
- search for solutions that work for both people in a conflict.
Effective Tips for How to End Sibling Rivalry For Good
My husband and I had many(oh so many) discussions and came up with a game plan (this took quite a bit of time because we were feeling our way through this process).
Here’s what we came up with:
Help your kids express their feelings and needs/wants
Kids learn best from watching their role models. That’s us – their parents.
We can help them learn to communicate what they are feeling and needing (or wanting) by demonstrating that for them.
When we model communication skills and conflict resolution skills for them, it helps them to learn and feel comfortable doing it themselves.
You can help them even more by helping them to phrase their needs and wants and feelings using “I” statements. For example: “I feel ______ when ______, and I want _______.”
A real life example would be when my son said “I feel hurt when you call me names, and I want you to stop doing that.” It was great! And it completely stopped his brother in his tracks!
When I can get my boys to do this, it greatly reduces the amount of blame that I hear!
Respond to the conflict in the moment
The best advice I ever heard as a parent was to accept all feelings but set boundaries by limiting behaviors you don’t want.
You do this by stating the behaviors that are not acceptable and asking for the behaviors that you want.
For example: “I can see that you are upset, but we don’t kick when we feel upset. We treat other people the way we want them to treat us.”
If the behavior continues, then separate the kids and give them a few minutes to calm down. After that, meet with them separately and talk about their feelings.
Let them know that it’s ok to feel any and all feelings, but when those feelings become actions that hurt other people, it becomes unacceptable.
Help your kids work through the conflict
Ask each child questions about how they think the other person feels to help them understand how other people feel and learn empathy.
We also ask our kids to think of ways that they could react differently to help prevent conflicts like that in the future.
We believe that doing this allows them to evaluate their behavior and the impact that it has on others.
Further, we ask them what solutions they can brainstorm and help them walk toward a solution that works for both people.
Parent Pro Tip: this step will not be productive if you try to do it when kids (or parents) are still upset.
Then we provide opportunities for the boys to connect – preferably activities that don’t involve competition.
We have tried:
- building puzzles
- completing projects (such as cleaning up a room or working on a building project)
- doing activities that are active and fun (like riding bikes, drawing, using sidewalk chalk, building a sand castle, or creating a Lego masterpiece).
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Build an environment of sibling love and encouragement
We do this by having regular family time (dinner, weekend activities like family bike rides, hikes, other adventures, and family movie nights), talking about and celebrating all our differences, and practicing giving each other affirmations.
We practice giving affirmations by having each child saying something meaningful that they love or appreciate about their siblings. Each child takes a turn, and so do my husband and I.
We have found that doing this reaffirms our differences and reframes them as positive qualities.
Practicing this attitude of gratitude has also helped to correct everyone’s perspective and show them that the problems they are facing with each other aren’t as big as they feel in the moment.
While sibling rivalry is difficult to deal with, it is also completely normal. Know that you are not alone – every parent deals with it!
Need additional resources or information? There are some really great books for parents about sibling rivalry.
However, if you:
- feel that you are overwhelmed in regards to helping your kids work through it, or
- are concerned about one or more of your children
don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for guidance and help.
Final Thoughts About Sibling Rivalry
Know that it takes time for kids to learn these new strategies.
Conflict resolution is a very advanced skill set. (maybe you adults who still struggle in this area?)
However, by practicing these strategies, you’ll enjoy significantly less sibling rivalry and fighting.
Expect other issues to pop-up after sibling rivalry is under control. Kids are constantly looking for ways to push boundaries and assert their power.
Chances are, you'll experience tantrums, backtalk, or other battles that flare up even while the siblings are at peace.
Understanding where kids are coming from and having some simple strategies in place will help you reduce or eliminate sibling rivalry in your home and live more peacefully.
Let us know in the comments below: how do you currently deal with sibling rivalry?