Parenting Q & A: My Kids Fight All The Time. Help!
Q: My sons are 7 and 5. They argue and fight non-stop. The older one tries to “parent” the younger one. The younger one whines and gets dramatic about even the most innocent things that the oldest does. I’m at my wit’s end with them! Why can’t they just play nicely together?
-Amy, Texas, USA
A. Hi, Amy! The bad news is sibling rivalry is one of the most common parenting issues – you certainly aren’t alone in your struggles. It’s frustrating to deal with.
The good news is that there are solutions to help your children get along better and bring peace to your home.
Read on to get my best tips for handling sibling rivalry.
10 Tips to Stop Sibling Rivalry
Take Yourself Out of the Equation
Stop playing tie-breaker or scorekeeper. If your children complain about each other, empathize with them. Dealing with difficult people is tough! Give them each tips for handling a situation in which the other person is behaving in a way they don’t like.
They can ask the person to stop, offer a compromise if the situation calls for it, walk away if the other person isn’t being kind, and refuse to play with them if the behavior continues.
Let your children know that they have options when their sibling is doing something they don’t like, but also let them know that you aren’t going to solve their squabbles for them.
Give Each Child One-on-One Time With You
I don’t know if you have two children or ten, so I understand that spending one-on-one time with your children gets more difficult the more children you have. Still, try to spend some time alone with each child when you can.
I’m not talking about a full-on mommy and me date, but just fifteen minutes can go a long way. Maybe the five year old gets time alone in the morning and the seven year old in the evening. Either way, give them some one-on-one time that they can count on.
Make Sure They’re Moving Their Big Muscles Several Times Per Day
Exercise is important for growing bodies. Sometimes the under-use of muscles leaves energy in the body that has to come out somewhere. A lack of proper movement can make a child feel cranky. A cranky child isn’t apt to be nice to those around him.
Create Opportunities for Team Work
Supervise activities that require your boys to work together. Household chores are great for this!
Show them that they can accomplish things together while you stay close by and give them the words they need when they hit a snag.
If they have differing ideas about how to complete a project, help them to speak to each with the proper tone and appropriate words to foster cooperation.
Stop Trying to Make Everything Fair
Stop trying to make everything fair. It’s impossible.
And no matter how fair things are, someone will always feel slighted! (Of course, you shouldn’t be purposely unfair – this just teaches your children that are you are mean and can’t be trusted.)
Sometimes, for instance, one child will have an earlier bedtime than another because he or she needs more sleep. Sometimes one will get a new bicycle because his old one was a hand-me-down and was worn beyond repair. Explain to your children why a seemingly unfair event occurred, but don’t feed the victim mentality.
They don’t have to feel that something is fair, but they do need to learn how to work through negative feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt others and allows them to eventually move forward from the situation.
Don’t Compare Your Children
I shouldn’t have to say this, but some parents still insist on comparing their children. It’s hurtful and doesn’t motivate your children in the way that you want.
Don’t Force Your Children to Play Together
Playing side-by-side (parallel play) is fine sometimes. It’s not necessary for siblings to always play together. If your children are requesting to play together but aren’t able to play nicely together, make them play separately for a time.
Stop the Bullying
Stop any bullying that occurs between your boys. While I don’t advocate playing referee, you must step in if your children become physically aggressive with each other. This means even the smallest shove must be met with consequences.
The first time anyone lays a hand on anyone else, playtime is over – for both the offender and his victim. (This keeps both children from making false claims just to win an argument.) The same goes for name-calling.
Beware of Boredom
Are your children bored? While it’s not your job to play cruise ship director, boredom has a direct effect on sibling rivalry and it’s not a positive one!
My oldest and youngest children have a strong desire for stimulation and human interaction. When they were the ages of your sons they would often pick at each other when bored.
Make sure your children have enough activities to keep their minds and bodies busy and they won’t need to pick fights for stimulation and engagement.
Be Mindful of Personality Differences
If one or both of your children is introverted, make sure that they are getting enough alone time each day. This has always been critical for my middle son. He’s the most introverted person in our home and will become a grouch if he’s not given enough time alone in peace to think his thoughts and recharge.
My youngest son is quite extraverted and knows no such thing as too much interaction with his brothers.
While my oldest and middle sons treasure time alone in their rooms, being alone in his room is practically a punishment for my youngest son.
Be sensitive to the individual needs of your children and help them to find the appropriate words when they need a break from interaction with each other.
If you want to read more about my personal experience with sibling rivalry among my three sons, check out my post How to Stop Sibling Rivalry.
If you need more information, check out Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber. This book helped me tremendously when my oldest and youngest went through their worst phase of sibling rivalry. I recommend it to everyone.
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