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Can’t Ignore the Sibling Fighting? Put Them in the Same Boat

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Avoid Sibling Fighting, Put Them in the Same Boat

I recently posted a parenting tip for handling sibling fighting that recommended you walk away and refuse to get involved in the conflict. I know for some of you, the worry is that your children are either too physical or too young, and still need your involvement.

That’s fine.  If ignoring is not going to be a viable tool for you, then let me offer up another method called: “Putting Them in the Same Boot.”  This tool ensures that both children involved in the conflict perceive that you are not siding with one over the other.  This method makes sure there is no accidental favoritism that can erode the sibling relationship.  It honors the fact that in any conflict, both parties are able to influence the outcome.  Since fighting requires both children to keep the situation hostile and unresolved, both should experience the same discipline for their disruptive antics, regardless of who started it, who had it first, or who owns it.  None of that matters!  If fighting erupts and doesn’t resolve itself, and you feel you must step in, try one of these lines:

“Looks like you two are having trouble being together at the moment. You can both go to your rooms and cool down for 5 minutes.”

“I guess I will have to put away the riding truck until you two can figure out how to share it without fighting.  When you have a plan worked out, come get me and I’ll give it back.”

“If you can’t agree on how to take turns on family computer without fighting, the computer will be turned off for this evening. You can both try again tomorrow.”

“I am having a hard time enjoying my dinner when you’re at each other like this.  I’m going to take my plate to the kitchen.  Call me when table is peaceful again and I’ll come back.”

With both children being put in the same boat, they are now interested in getting their brother or sister to be cooperative with them rather than sustaining the conflict. With this new method, they are invested in not upsetting the other.  Give it a try and let me know it goes for you.  If you’ve already had success with this method, share your stories! Nothing is more motivating than someone else’s success story.

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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12 Responses to “Can’t Ignore the Sibling Fighting? Put Them in the Same Boat”

  1. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Zeemaid – Thanks for posting. Yes – if they all sit that is “the same boat”. I can’t believe you can get them to sit on the couch and NOT kill each other there! But if its working, go for it.

  2. kara

    Hi Alyson:
    I just got your book on a recommendation of a friend and have really enjoyed it. What do you do when one child always gives in for lack of a better word? When I put my 7 and 5 year old boys in the same boat, the 5 year old always give in to whatever the seven year old wants. It’s been like this as long as I can remember. He’s much more easy going–and as a result, it bothers me that his older brother seems to take advantage of this.

  3. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Kara,
    One child may constantly acquiesce if they think it impresses their parents and gives them the “golden child” status – however if you are unimpressed and don’t care, and they still acquiesce always, you may have to put this concern on the family meeting agenda. For example: When ever I leave you two to decide on what movie to watch, Ben always gets his movie choice. That doesn’t seem fair to Molly. Lets find another way to decide on movies that seems more equitable.
    Hope that helps!

  4. Melisse

    I have read your books and have been using your suggestions. My two year old is better behaved now with her playmates that are the same age as her but things don’t seem to be improving with her 11 month old sister. I don’t know what to do. I can’t leave the room because my two year old attacks my youngest when I do. She hits her with toys in the face causing large welts and bruising. This morning I went to answer the phone and when I walked back in the room she had her little sister on the floor scratching her face. Her sister had bloody scratches around her eyes and nose. We have been trying to spend more with my 2 yr old and trying to get her to talk about whats bugging her but she babbles about some random topic. She pretends that nothing happened. It seems like when I ignore some of the things that she is doing like snatching toys she escalates the severity of what she is doing. She does most of this When i’m out of the room or not looking. What do I do?

  5. Alyson Schafer

    Hello Melisse,

    Thanks for the question. It common that “dethronement” happens in two waves… The first when the baby arrives and then a second wave when they hit about one year and are walking. It seems the threat rises when their baby sister seems to be “catching up” and getting into their stuff more. The situation is compounded by the fact that now that they are “acting out” in their discouragement, they also get the brunt of more discipline, while the 11 month old is of an age where little discipline and correction is happening. The other thing of interest is that the “attacks” happen when you are out of the room. It is common that the behaviour is NOT related to sibling jealousy, but directed more at mom and as a vehicle to get her BACK in the room and engaged. I would try:

    1) increase comments and noticing of how gentle and loving she is with her sister and how well they get along when ever you see it happneing
    2) minimize your talking and comments about how she mistreats her sister – but doing what you need to do to keep them safe.
    3) don’t over protect or dote on the hurt baby while still responding in a caring way
    4) when ever its possible, ignore …. left on their own, seeing your sister cry and bleeding is scary without a parent around.
    5) separate them both… when you have to “step in” say ” I see you two can be together right now” and separate them BOTH into their own rooms for a few minutes and say “you can come back when you play together safely”

    Hope that helps!

  6. Jennifer A. Temple

    I had a son 6 years older and bigger than his brother. After a number of situations where the older son intentionally hurt the younger, there came a point when I phoned my local police. I explained I had a basically good kid that was a bit hard on his brother and asked them to send a VERY BIG officer to come and chat with my son about the law and explain to my son that an assault against a sibling is still an assault. They sent a great guy! He explained the laws and frightened my son just enough. Some things are just plain and simply against the law. (it may sound a bit harsh but I knew the local police, I would NEVER have tried that stunt in Toronto!) I should also mention as a rule, my sons got on well but my view was any violence was too much, given the difference in size and age. I called the police after the younger one had his hand slammed in a door. (Crazy??) It did work.

  7. Alyson Schafer

    Yes, you must live in a small town! Even reports of domestic violence and harassment often don’t get the attention of police 🙁 Its sounds like you pulled off a good learning experience that was respectful – so kudos to you! Glad it worked.

  8. lisa

    I love the idea of sending the kids to their rooms to cool off for 5 minutes. The problem is that they won’t go to their rooms if they are told to. Any suggestions on how to get the to go there?

  9. Alyson Schafer

    Lisa – if they won’t, I recommend you don’t try to force them. It will turn physical and the issue will escalate. Instead – simply let them know that you are not okay with their fighting and you will not watch it. Let them know that they have a choice: “Can you two calm down – or do I need to go? I can’t watch you treat each other this way.” If they continue, then you leave and be sure to go somewhere far enough away they know you can’t watch or hear them. Sometimes that a walk around the block. Good luck!

  10. Marena

    Hi Alyson, I need advice about my two sons behaving silly. I have a 7 and 4 years old, the youngest needs his brother’s approval and attention and sometimes he tries to get it by being silly, then the 7 years old engages in the game (but for a different reason, trying to get his little brother in trouble). They don’t stop laughing, jumping and running around, pillow fights, jumping on the couch or my bed, playing with their hands and wrestling (which always ends up in hitting and fighting). I can ask them to stop 100 times, tell them about consequences and they just ignore me, it is like talking to the wall, so it just ends when one of them (usually the youngest one) gets hit by his brother or I just take away a toy or a privilege (like minecraft time) so everybody is mad and angry (including me). What can I do to stop this behaviour? I don’t understand why they decide to ignore me (I can see them watching me from the corner of the eye) . Thanks!

  11. sonia

    Hi Alyson,
    How is it possible for the children to be left to resolve their fight or discipline them equally regardless of the situation if they are sitting in their wounds and can’t “see” the logic?

    • alyson

      I don’t understand the question – can you give me a concrete example so explain this better.


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