Strategies For Resolving Sibling Fights

March 24, 2021

Sibling rivalry is a fact of life — one that’s certainly amplified in the pandemic.

Whether it manifests in name-calling, crying, screaming, physical fights or some combination of it all, it’s natural for parents to feel exasperated and overwhelmed. 

If you’re weary over nonstop bickering, take heart knowing that there’s some hidden benefits to these conflicts. Even better, there’s also some simple ways you can restore the harmony in your home…

 

Sibling Rivalry Begins at Birth

First things first: It’s totally normal for sibling relationships to swing back and forth between buddies and sworn enemies. 

These conflicts can worry parents, but they make perfect sense. When a new baby comes along, the firstborn may feel replaced in their parents’ affections. And when the third child comes along, the dynamic shifts again. There is a natural power dynamic surrounding birth order that begins very early. As an article on PositiveParentingSolutions.com puts it, “How would you feel if your spouse brought home someone else and expected the two of you to get along?”

Individual personalities and temperaments are also at play. The closer that siblings are in age, the more physical access they tend to have to one another. Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, siblings whose birthdays are spaced further apart are usually less competitive with each other. 

 

Lessons Learned from Sibling Rivalry 

Whether the kids are fighting for your attention or to feel more powerful than their sibling, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that they learn better ways to get their needs met.

There are lessons to be learned by your battling brood…and there may be ways that you can help the process before it gets too out of hand! 

Conflict resolution is a valuable and necessary life skill, and truthfully it’s one that’s best learned at home early on. Sibling squabbles teach kids important lessons about empathy, relationships, forgiveness and social interactions. Those lessons better prepare them for inevitable conflicts at school and work down the road.

Tips to keep everyone happy & sane

While you may be tempted to intervene in every dispute, it’s wise to look before you leap. If things get too angry or the kids get physical, it’s time to get involved. However, you may be surprised by your children’s ability to de-escalate the conflict themselves when you take a back seat. 

 

Stay calm

Kids are sponges, and they pick up on your energy. Remember that you are an adult and their role model.

When you stay composed and in control, you teach kids to respond instead of react. Your calmness will begin to diffuse the high drama and emotions in the air.

 

Resist the urge to label or compare

It’s a natural impulse for parents to compare siblings. “Oh, he’s the artistic one.” “She’s our little athlete!”

These statements seem innocuous and good-intentioned, but they can exacerbate sibling rivalry by pitting kids against each other. This can also put each kid into “boxes” that they feel trapped in. Try to cheer each kid on for their unique attributes without bringing the others into the equation.

 

Just listen

It’s so easy to judge our kids’ feelings as irrational, bratty or ungrateful. First, remember that they’re kids. They don’t yet have the emotional toolbox to verbalize how they’re feeling, so outbursts are expected. 

Second, kids can’t behave right when they don’t feel right. This is true for adults, too: Think about how much your frustration dissipates when someone simply acknowledges your feelings.

That’s why it’s so important to create an environment where each child gets a turn at sharing their feelings. See if you can restrain from denying their feelings, philosophizing, lecturing or otherwise reacting. Just listen. Sometimes, that’s all it takes! Their anger may dissolve just from the relief of having a moment to get it all out and feel understood.

 

Teach your kids to listen, too

Being a good listener yourself will help kids learn to mirror this  skill. However, you also need to make it clear that everyone is expected to listen to each side with no interruptions. Using a “talking stick” is one strategy to help everyone speak their piece. 

 

Help them name their emotions

Imagine how frustrating it would be to grapple with tough emotions and have no idea how to verbalize them. In fact, maybe you do remember all too well this experience as a child! Your kids will benefit big-time in the “emotional intelligence” department when you help them name their feelings.

Here’s an example from the book “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King…

  • Your child says something negative, such as “I hate Jimmy.”
  • Instead of denying their feelings (“That’s not true! He’s your little brother!”), name the emotion and put it in a sentence.
  • Try, “It sounds like you’re really angry with Jimmy.”
  • The bottom line is that all feelings can be accepted. However, some actions must be limited.

 

Be Solutions-Oriented

The ultimate goal is to give your children problem-solving strategies. Encourage them to come up with solutions to shift them to a more positive frame of mind. Keep in mind that everyone will probably need to make some compromises.

To pivot the conversation, replace “but” statements with “the problem is” or “even though you know.”

Here’s another example from “How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen”…

  • Instead of saying, “I know you’re mad, but you can’t hit the baby,” first acknowledge their feelings. Try, “Oh no. Here you are working on something special, and the baby comes to grab it. How frustrating.” When you dismiss that feeling, they feel like they have to battle the baby AND mom.
  • Then, add on: “It can be irritating to deal with a baby when you’re trying to build a spaceship. The problem is, babies don’t understand about Legos. Maybe you can teach them how it works.”
  • This suggests a problem can be solved without sweeping feelings under the rug. Then, it gives the option of encouraging teamwork without forcing it.

 

Family love

After all grievances have been aired, you want to remind the kids that they love each other. Ask them to name three things they love about each other. When you’re through talking, everyone gets a hug! 

 

For more family-friendly tips, check out the CA Parents’ Corner blog.

 

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