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Children Story Time admin

Controlling Sibling Fighting and When to Get Help

Posted by Children Story Time admin, 8 minutes read
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Controlling sibling fighting is about knowing when to step in before it gets too severe and not losing your tempt yourself. Remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is stand back and let children learn how to work out the problem themselves.

Why Do Siblings Fight? 

It is completely normal for siblings to compete and to get involved in a fight from time to time. Early and middle childhood are the periods that are especially difficult rivalry-wise. From the psychological perspective, sibling fights are not about who will get more ice cream, and so on. This rivalry serves an extremely important developmental purpose.

A kid who has a brother or a sister will quickly come to an understanding that the world is actually full of similar others. This fact triggers the process of differentiation – a process of identity development.

In a nutshell, sibling rivalry helps shape the personality traits and the interests of each child thanks to or despite the interests and desires of the other sibling.

Most Common Causes of Sibling Conflict

Here are the main causes that you should be aware of:

  1. Birth order – both the youngest and the oldest child can have an advantage. If you have three or more children, the middle ones would be the ones to have the hardest time.
  2. Gender – the most severe fights usually happen between a boy and a girl. That is because kids will eventually have gender-identity questions and as time goes by, they will start noticing that their sibling is completely different in a lot of ways.
  3. Temperament – of course, some children might be more aggressive, while others are more fragile and sensitive.
  4. Age difference – older kids have more control over their emotions. Moreover, because the older kid is on a higher development stage, he or she might start using that to read the sibling’s weaknesses.
  5. Talent – amazing skills can provoke jealousy in one sibling and make the other one develop a big ego.

Do bear in mind that parenting styles and interactions can become a cause of sibling conflict as well. Any kind of environmental stress, like moving to a new home, financial losses, illness of a family member, etc. might also be to blame.

When to Step in

Not every fight between siblings needs your intervention. One of the wonders of having a sibling is having someone to work out problems with instead of being on your own. Letting children learn how to settle their disagreements is a valuable skill and can reduce fighting in the long term.

However, there’s a difference between a disagreement and an actual fight. You don’t want either child to get hurt, so if it looks like emotions are getting high or it starts to become physical, it’s time to step in and help control the situation.

Here are some steps on when to step in before a fight gets started:

  1. Separate before the tears come. Children are still learning how to control their emotions, so they’re pretty transparent about how they feel. If you can see the tears are about to fall, it’s time for you to step in and separate the siblings for a while.
  2. Control your emotions. Children learn from their environment and can sense what you are feeling. Keep your cool, and don’t get upset with yourself because it will only make controlling sibling fighting more difficult. 
  3. Apply consequences fairly. No one child is responsible for the fight but both of them. If they are fighting because of a toy, the consequence is neither gets to play with it. The consequences don’t always have to be the same, but there should be fair consequences for all children involved in the fight. 

Controlling Sibling Fighting

The best way to control sibling fighting is to prevent it as much as possible. Some methods to control the fighting: parent each kid differently, ask them to explain what’s going on, and prioritize family time. Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods.

Parent Each Kid Differently

While having fair consequences is essential, not every child responds to the same treatment well. They will have different temperaments and get emotional about different things. You’ll have to understand each child as an individual and try different tactics to find the right balance.  It’s important not to show a preference for one child over another. Some children have easy temperaments and will be less likely to cause confrontation. However, establishing an inclination towards an easier-tempered child or asking a “challenging” child to be more like their sibling will only cause more disagreements between them. 

Ask Them to Explain

It might be tempting to get into the middle of a fight and take control, but this may only solve the issue in the short term. You need to understand what the argument is about and draw connections between similar areas of disagreement before you can resolve anything.  The easiest way to figure out what your children are fighting about is to ask them. Asking what’s wrong is best for all children regardless of age, though older children may be better at explaining the heart of the problem than younger ones. 

If you show your children that you are willing to listen and understand them, they are more likely to come to you when there is an issue, especially if you remain calm and let them know they won’t get in trouble simply by letting you know something is wrong.

Allow the Kids to Problem-Solve

If you see that the conflict has not escalated and that, at the moment, the kids might be able to navigate the issue themselves, give the children such an opportunity. If the siblings are failing to listen to one another, you can step in and apply this problem-solving model:

  1. Allow each child to express their point of view. The other kid is not allowed to interrupt as he or she will also have a minute to talk. When listening, try ‘reflecting’ what the child is saying with such questions as “So you are saying…?”
  2. Make sure that you have acknowledged the feelings of both of the children. After that, ask them to come up with a solution – “You both want to play a game on the computer, but we have only one computer. What can we do to solve this problem?”
  3. Carefully listen to the suggestions. If the children can’t seem to come up with a solution, try offering a couple of ideas.
  4. Choose a solution that both of the kids have agreed on and commit to it together.

The greatest thing about this exercise is that after a few times the children would start using this technique on their own. Furthermore, these problem-solving skills will help them a lot in their adult life as well.

Prioritize Family Time

Spending time with your children as a family is the best prevention method for sibling fights. Most of the time, siblings get into fights because they are bored and/or they have been spending too much time together as just the two of them. Planning family activities to occupy your children’s time while also socializing with other kids or family members will help keep them from getting on each other’s nerves.  Make sure that you are giving your attention fairly. Your children have to feel as if they are all getting to spend time with you. If you spend more time with one sibling, for example, the youngest, this will only give more reasons for sibling rivalry later. 

Set Rules

Setting rules is not only a great way of establishing your family values, but it also opens up a discussion about how to deal with disagreements before they happen.

Including your children in the process of making the rules is essential too. Including them allows them to voice how they want their siblings to treat them and makes them feel like they have some control over how they interact with others in the household. 

Establish Shared Values

Now that you have set the rules, you can go the extra mile and define your family values. It is an incredibly powerful activity that will help bring a sense of unity and establish a direction for the whole family.

To make the process a bit more fun for the kids, you can try writing a family manifesto. All you would have to do is brainstorm together, pick the best ideas, and then turn your family manifesto into something physical. For example, you can print it out, frame it, and hang it somewhere for everyone to see.

You might want to consider these tips:

  • Use the letters of your family name to come up with different values and guidelines.
  • Start your manifesto with the words “We believe…”. To make the manifesto a bit more fun you can mix playful and more serious phrases. For example, “We believe in the power of kindness” and “We believe that Pixar movies are the best”.
  • You can also use these words at the very beginning – “In our house, we…”

This is not only a cool bonding activity. Family manifestos will help the kids develop a sense of belonging that, in its turn, fosters optimal self-esteem development, problem-solving skills, and impulse control.

Teach Calming Techniques

The majority of kids find it challenging to regulate their emotions. At times, this might become one of the main reasons for a conflict between siblings.

Teaching your children a few calming techniques will help them learn to acknowledge and control their emotions a bit better. So, whenever the kids start feeling angry or frustrated, you can suggest stopping for a moment to ‘belly breathe’ or ‘play with flowers and bubbles’.

Belly Breathing

Ask your children to lay down on the floor. Put a stuffed toy on their bellies and ask them to take the toy for a ride (you can use a book for the older kids).

The children should slowly breathe in and then breathe out. Make sure that only the stomachs are moving (it should expand like a balloon and then deflate).

Flowers and Bubbles

Ask the kids to imagine that they have a flower in one hand and a bubble wand in the other (you can use actual objects if you have those).

The children should first smell the beautiful flower (breathe in through the nose deeply and slowly) and then blow the bubbles (slowly breathe out through the mouth). Repeat about 5 times.

When to Seek Help

If you find that your children are fighting a lot or becoming something you are overwhelmed by, then it’s time to seek help.  You could notice that one or more of your children is very aggressive, which could be a sign of other conditions which make it more difficult for children to manage their behavior, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Seeking a General Practitioner could be your next step in figuring out what your child needs. Don’t be afraid to get support from friends, family, or a parenting helpline if you feel stressed about the fighting between siblings. There is no reason you have to do this alone, and there are people out there who are willing and able to help you.

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