Kids will be kids, and fighting with siblings is a normal part of childhood. However, you can prevent a lot of that conflict with these 10 musts:
Kids can’t conform to your expectations if they don’t know exactly what to expect. “Fighting” can mean many things, from a silly little spat to back-and-forth bickering to a full-blown battle. Siblings are always going to have some disagreements, so you need to make rules up front about what’s acceptable and what’s not.
For example, you can let your kids know that disagreeing with each other is fine, but that it’s not to be done with raised voices or name calling. Let them know things that are never acceptable under any circumstances, like hitting each other.
Of course, just because you forbid knock-down, drag-out fights between your kids doesn’t mean they’re not going to have them. You also need to have pre-determined consequences in place for when they break the rules.
Make the consequences age appropriate. Time-outs work for younger children, but you need to up the ante as they get older. For example, if a child hits his sibling, an appropriate payback is having him or her do that sibling’s chores for the next two days.
Fights aren’t the right way to settle disagreements, but youngsters don’t know any better unless you teach them. Give your kids alternatives to healthy fighting. They’re not automatically born with conflict resolution skills.
Very young children don’t have the verbal aptitude to talk about conflicts, but you can begin by teaching them empathy. Using simple words, say, “Do you like it if someone throws your toys? How does that make you feel? How do you think your sister feels when you do that to her?” As your kids get older, offer alternatives to fighting, like talking out the problem and coming to a mutually satisfactory solution.
Communication skills are at the core of keeping your kids from fighting in unhealthy ways. They won’t be able to talk things out if they don’t have the skills to do so. Implement simple rules like the following: Each child gets a chance to talk without interruption. Each child states his or her own viewpoint without making accusations about the other child. Neither child can call the other names. As a parent, you’ll have to referee many of these discussions, but as your family’s communication skills build and your kids mature, they’ll learn to work things out on their own.
When you expect your kids to suppress their emotions, don’t be surprised if they finally explode. You can say “Stop being mad at your brother!” or “Quit being upset with your sister,” but that doesn’t make the child’s feelings magically go away. They just get stuffed down, ready to emerge later. Instead, let the child talk about his or her feelings without fear of being judging or belittled. Acknowledge that it’s okay to have them, but explain the proper way of showing and expressing them.
Treat your children as fairly as possible, as jealously is at the heart of many sibling fights. Kids have keen eyes, and if you put just one tiny dab more of peanut butter on one child’s sandwich, the other is bound to notice. Obviously, you can’t measure and weigh everything you give to the kids, but make an effort to treat them as equals. Apply the family rules fairly, and when one child has to be punished, make it clear why that’s happening and why he or she is being singled out.
When you reach adulthood, it’s hard to remember what it was like to be a kid. You forget the trials of having annoying little brother or sister or the frustration of constantly trying to live up to an older sibling. Even when you have to correct your child, it’s okay to say, “You shouldn’t have done that, but I can understand why you were frustrated. It’s okay to feel that way, but you just have to learn how to handle it in a better way.”
Parental attention shouldn’t be reserved for bad behavior. Let your kids know when they’re doing a good job. Find opportunities to say, “I’m so pleased with how well you’re all getting along!” or “I love how patiently you treated your little brother when he kept interrupting you while you were watching TV.”
Kids respond to bribery. If that weren’t true, Santa Claus would be out of a job. Why not promote peace among siblings by rewarding good behavior? You don’t have to give a reward every time, but when you’re had a peaceful household for several days, show the kids you’re proud of them with a special treat. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just pizza for dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor.
When you have a loving household, the love is present even in the midst of the biggest fights. Just as Jesus loves us unconditionally, we must love our children in the same way. If we let them know we love them, even when they’re misbehaving, they’ll learn to extend that same courtesy to their siblings and the fights will decrease.
Ephesians has some excellent advice for families:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise: “that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.” You fathers, don’t provoke your children to wrath, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. —Ephesians 6:1-4
If you want your children’s respect, and want to teach them not to fight with each other, follow this biblical wisdom and treat them in a way that promotes household peace.