If you have more than one child, it’s probably become common for you to hear your children go back and forth during an argument and even possibly use their bodies to hurt each other. “Moooom! Mark keeps on bugging me! He’s flicking me. Mooooom!” This probably sounds all too familiar. The back and forth fighting between your children may become overwhelming and can easily drive you crazy! Parenting is already stressful without the constant fighting between your children. Don’t worry. Most parents with more than one child experience this and may worry about why their children fight and if it means there is something wrong with their children or their parenting abilities. Again, don’t worry. Let’s begin with trying to understand why siblings may fight and then discuss different things we can do to best help your children navigate these conflicts.
1. Conflict between siblings is typical.
It is important to know that it is quite normal for siblings to fight. Don’t worry. Although the fighting between your kids may drive you to want to pull your hair out, conflicts between siblings open the door for learning and provide your children with opportunities to resolve conflicts and think of ways to manage and explore relationships with others.
2. Children desire attention and a sense of control.
Children are intuitive and know you best. Often times, children want attention from you and want to be able to control the situation. Remember, all behavior has meaning and it is up to us to figure out the meaning of the behaviors we don’t like. For instance, when your children fight, you might overreact, raise your voice, and give attention to your kids as a means of trying to resolve the conflict. They will eventually come to realize that these conflicts or fights immediately get your attention away from anything that you’re doing and instead focus your attention on them. Are you on the phone and sometimes notice that your kids start picking a fight in the middle of your conversation? Your children are clever and know what it takes to divert your attention away from your phone.
3. Children compare themselves to siblings.
Fights between siblings may stem from comparisons. One child may feel as if he or she is less than his or her sibling. Although most of the time the negative feelings are not truly rooted in hatred toward his sibling, your child may feel as if he is unable to match up or “compete” with his sibling and is unable to make his parents happy or “like me just as much as him.” Your child may have this feeling even if it isn’t the case that you treat or “like” siblings differently.
What can I do?
1. Model for your child how to settle arguments safely and cooperatively.
Believe it or not, your children learn many things from simply watching you do things, such as navigating your relationships with others and interacting with your partner.
2. Let your child navigate these conflicts without too much parent interference.
Give your children the chance to learn! You may take on the role of mediator and help siblings to think of possible solutions to a problem, then let them decide together which solution will work best.
3. It’s okay to ask siblings to argue “somewhere else” if it gets too loud.
Offer to come in to help with the negotiations in 5 minutes when you are finished with your current task. Let them have a little practice negotiating before you step in. Of course you will need to step in right away if someone is getting hurt.
4. Avoid comparing your children.
Do not compare. Openly comparing your children will harm your children and plant these harmful ideas in their minds and prevent them from getting along cooperatively.
5. Emphasize the differences and special qualities each of your children have.
Explain to them that no one is the same and each of us have differences that make us who we are. Highlight each of their strengths and celebrate these differences!
Although fighting between siblings is typical, it is important to note that if the fighting becomes excessive, becomes dangerous, or is causing extreme emotional trauma within the family, you need to seek help from a professional. Don’t wait or ignore the issue. It is best to get help sooner rather than later. We are here for you! Feel free to contact our office to set up a consultation.
Written by Marilee Hartling and Daniel Munoz