Siblings fighting. Every parent will tell you that even the best-behaved children will fight with their siblings. It’s inevitable to get annoyed with people that you spend so much time around. Even though there is no foolproof way to prevent your children from fighting with each other, you can certainly do things to minimize it. The way parents respond to siblings fighting can set the tone for them making up and minimize future fighting.
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Tips to Help Prevent Siblings from Fighting (or at least minimize it!)
Give Them Time to Themselves
Teaching your children to play independently (<– read this post if you want to know how to start doing that) and giving them the time each day to do so is very important. My children definitely fight less on days that they have independent playtime. On days that we skip it, by the end of the day they just seem to be sick of each other and all end up fighting and screaming over the same toy.
Don’t Make Things Equal
Yes, you read that correctly. Do not go out of your way to make sure that things are always equal. Not every child should get a reward if only one child has earned it; not every child should get presents on each siblings birthday! If you try to make things equal, one day that will be out of your control; one child will come home from school with a treat or go to a birthday party and get a fun party favor. If your children are used to things always being equal, situations such as these are going to cause resentment and fighting. Things can be fair even if they aren’t equal.
Children need to learn at an early age that sometimes their sibling will get something that they don’t; it’s OK to feel disappointed by this as a child and it is our job as parents to help them manage those emotions appropriately.
Teach them to Delight in Each Other
When one child gets to do something, such as open a present, we make a big deal out of it. I make sure to point out the emotions and say things such as “Margo loves that new toy, that makes me so happy!” Children can tell when you genuinely mean something, and excitement is contagious.
Practice Taking Turns
There are many games and toys that are great to practice turn taking. Josie and Margo are a bit young for games, but this one of our favorite games to practice taking turns with.
Flip books are also a great way to practice taking turns! Here is one of our favorites.
How to Respond When Siblings Fight
Lord knows this is an area where that I struggle with! Cue ten million deep breaths before I approach the situation because I really just want to yell at them for being mean to each other. How you respond will depend on the situation.
I try to figure out what the fighting is about. With my children, it’s usually fighting over a toy. One of the girls snatched a toy from Theo, or he wants something they’re playing with.
I first respond by validating that emotion. “It is OK to feel upset that your sister took your toy, but you may not run after her screaming and snatch it back.” Their feelings are valid and it’s so important to teach them that YES, it’s OK to feel mad, but it’s not OK to act mean because you feel mad.
I then discuss the appropriate response. “Josie I was playing with that, may I have it back please?” and if that doesn’t work, come get a grown up. I also explain why. We respond kindly because we are a family that puts kindness first. Being mean is not an option. I also point out that responding in kindness will almost always work, whereas being mean and fighting back doesn’t work, and usually gets everyone in trouble.
If that all goes smoothly, and the toy is given back, I praise everyone for effective problem solving and remind them to try it that way next time. If the fighting continues I will take the toy away until they can handle playing with it without fighting.
Sometimes, it can be beneficial to ignore the fighting. This depends entirely on the situation and the age of your children. Theo is 4 and Josie and Margo are 2, so in most cases, I need to intervene because they are all still learning how to handle confrontations.
Sometimes, the teaching moment can happen after. “How did it work out when you hit your sister? She hit you back. How did that feel?” I will say that if you ignore the fighting to teach after, not to do it too often.
Don’t Expect Them to be Perfect
Here’s the thing. Children are learning how to handle their emotions and they are not going to get it right every time. It’s easy to feel like a failure as a parent when our child acts in a way that we are consistently working against.
Mamas, just because your children fight doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t working. It means that it’s an excellent opportunity for teaching. So pour a cup of coffee, put them down for a nap, and take some time to get refreshed and reenergized.
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