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#AskAlyson: Sibling Fighting

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Hi Alyson,

 

I need help!  I have 3 kids (10 year old boy, 7 year old boy and 5 year old girl) and the amount of fighting that goes on everyday is intolerable.  They argue over everything!!!  Who gets to sit where on the couch, who gets to shower first, who is better at drawing, singing, math, etc.  Recently, the name-calling has become out of control and they are constantly being rude and disrespectful to each other.  They would never act this way with their friends, but with each other there is so much competing and bringing the other person down.  I try to ignore it and it doesn’t seem to work. It is more a problem with the younger two, but my older son gets involved too – often encouraging the younger two to keep the fight going. Please give me your best advice – I’m willing to try just about anything at this point.

 

P.S. I would also like to note that I don’t think they have learned this from us as my husband and I are careful to speak kindly and respectfully to each other and we don’t get involved in heated discussions in front of the kids. We also don’t belittle each other. Where is this all coming from?

 

Sunita P.

 

Hi Sunita,

 

Ahhhh – sibling fighting is such a common challenge in families, don’t feel that you are alone.

 

There are so many aspects that come into play when you look at sibling dynamics: gender, age-span, birth order, personality, natural talents, feelings of inadequacy, etc. We could spend hours trying to dissect what’s really driving the rivalry in the household but to give you some hints and tips that can help mainstream fighting I will need to make a few assumptions.

  • The kids are able to get along when their parents are not around
  • The kids are able to get along when it counts (meaning if there is something very important going on or you are in an environment where fighting and name-calling would be completely inappropriate, they are able to contain themselves)
  • Each of them have healthy peer relationships in school and outside school
  • There isn’t one child in the home who is being treated for a special condition (i.e. health, mental health, learning or physical disabilities).

 

So why do kids fight? The number one reason is to activate parent involvement and to make you take sides or show favouritism. Have you ever noticed the fighting or name-calling starts up the minute the phone rings or you are otherwise occupied? Children like to draw in their parent’s to get attention. Disruptive behaviours that you won’t tolerate are the best way to get your attention back on them! Chances are they have been playing this ‘game’ for a while and it has worked in the past. While it continues to work, they will continue to use the tactic. The best thing you can do is stop letting it pull you and your husband back in! Easier said than done!

 

Here is a quick list of what can get you on the right track:

 

  1. Make a firm decision that fighting amongst them is no longer your problem to solve! It’s between them to resolve. They can choose to fight or not fight and you are not responsible for that decision.
  2. Explain to the kids that you know they are capable of compromise and problem solving. They do this successfully with their friends and now they need to use those same skills to resolve matters inside their home too. Mom and Dad will no longer be part of resolving issues in the moment. If the issue can’t be resolved, they can always put it on the agenda for a family meeting.
  3. When the fighting/name-calling/tattling starts up, have a one-liner rehearsed and use it! “I don’t like to see this type of disrespect. Take it outside or leave the room. You don’t need a harsh tone. Just state it calmly and walk away. You must always walk away or have them leave the room.
  4. If a compromise cannot be reached within a few minutes and you hear the fight escalating, gently remind them if they cannot come to an agreement, everyone will lose out. That means if they can’t agree on a show, the TV goes off. If they can’t agree which seat cushion on the couch belongs to whom, the living room is off limits to both till they can settle the dispute. If they get physical – both are separated and sent to their rooms to cool down. If they fight over turns on the computer, everyone loses computer time that day.

 

I know, I know – “but it’s not fair to the rest of them”. Here’s the reality; it takes two (or three) to tango. A fight cannot ensue if one person refuses to involve themselves. Name-calling from the older brother will only escalate if the little sister reacts to it. If your middle child won’t get off the computer after his turn is done, and they all lose the computer for the night, eventually the kids will join forces to make sure they all abide by the rules so nobody loses computer time the next night. And it doesn’t take long for them to learn this but you have to be consistent.

 

There is so much more to be said about sibling relationships and there is a great deal of research that shows how birth order impacts siblingship. If you want to get down and dirty to help encourage positive relationships in your home, you might find my Sibling Rivalry workshop very helpful. Additionally, Siblings Without Rivalry is a great book that can give you some more information.

 

P.S. I am glad to hear you and your husband are doing a great job modeling healthy relationships. Believe it or not, it can be helpful for your kids to hear you work out a situation where you don’t agree on something. Show them the art of compromise or how one of you sometimes agrees to “let it go” without holding resentment. Of course, this should be an age-appropriate topic and done in a calm way, but be sure it shows compassion, understanding, ability to hear someone else’s side, and even apologies if someone misunderstood or made assumptions.

 

 

Happy Parenting!

 

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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3 Responses to “#AskAlyson: Sibling Fighting”

  1. AES

    I’d love to hear about when one of your assumptions is not correct–for example I have 3 children similar ages and one is being treated for LD, ASD, ADHD, etc etc and the others are not. I’m struggling with the fighting and also the bigger picture of one child requiring so much more parenting energy (and having a more volatile temper than the others)..

    Reply
    • alyson

      No doubt the child with the issues is more deeply discouraged, and hence their feelings of inferiority are deeply stirred and this creates the greater drive to overcome those feelings, often in mistake ways that appear as “acting up”. The other children are not as discouraged and hence don’t need as much. Just as a cactus doesn’t need as much water as pansy. So, your work is to give the discouraged child more encouragement in the flavour he needs it in. That may require the help of a family counsellor to help you see and to best set a course of action.

      Reply
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