Are you sooooo frustrated about sibling fighting? My kids fight all the time, too. They’re little bitty and total opposites. They kinda drive each other nuts some days, and I DO NOT foresee this changing before the teenage years. You can’t change wiring and personality!
That said, we’ve come a long way toward managing the arguing, and we teach them to love each other well. Here’s what works well for us to mitigate sibling fighting and restore peace!
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Teach siblings how to take a break from each other.
My kids fight all the time when they can’t seem to catch a break from each other.
My daughter is six and frequently gets pretty annoyed at her adoring, yet irritating three year old brother. He’s always coming at her with foam swords, whining at her to play with him, and just generally being way too extra by infringing on her personal space.
She knows that at any given moment, she’s allowed to call a time out and hide in her closet from him with a book, journal, or sensory bottle. I support this by insisting that he honor that protected space. Even if I’m busy and would rather they sort it out, I distract him to give her some space.
Kids need a way to step away from a situation before they get so overstimulated that they hurt the other sibling with words or physical aggression. We need to teach them how to do it! It doesn’t come naturally to walk away from a frustrating situation.
Keep a meal and snack schedule to avoid sibling fighting.
While one of my kids can easily miss snacks and meals without missing a beat, the other melts down if snack time comes even 10 minutes late.
Some kids are just really wired for order and routine. You’ll see them picking at other family members if the family schedule falls apart.
Additionally, some people’s bodies just process sugar differently. If Chicken Patty’s blood sugar drops from not getting enough protein at breakfast, or a snack arriving late, he gets weirdly aggressive and melty-downy.
Does he know that about himself? Of course not. It’s taken me three years to realize that he can’t tell me when he just needs a healthy snack to chill out.
We serve regular meals on a schedule, and snacks are on the table promptly at 10:30 and 3:30. My kids fight all the time if I fail to create routine for them.
Teach the older child how to collaborate instead of compete.
My kids fight all the time when there’s a competition involved.
In most cases, sibling competition is just not fair. Ours are three years apart, so the middle child is never going to win a race, or really anything, against our oldest. At least not until they get older.
For a long time, my daughter kept inviting him to compete over ANYTHING. Of course, being a competitive little boy, he’d take the bait every time. But not 30 seconds into the competition, he’d be sobbing on the floor.
Should I teach him all about losing gracefully? Why yes, I should. But right now, it’s more important to teach my oldest that she’s being hurtful and wreaking havoc by competeting with a little guy who’s never going to win.
Lately, I’ve been reminding her to spend her energies teaching him instead of competing against him. (And yes, letting him win once in a while if she insists on some hallway hockey).
Combat sibling jealousy and don’t play favorites.
My kids fight all the time when jealousy starts to rear its ugly head. My three year old can’t quite articulate that, but it definitely happens.
Babies demand attention.
Also, it’s much easier for me to connect with my daughter through because we think all the same things are fun. She loves crafting, and so do I. (One of our favorite activities is pencil shaving art). She’s a wonderful reader, and I taught third grade reading. She’s getting old enough that we can watch some of my favorite childhood movies after my little boy goes to sleep.
But playing 45 minutes of catch with a three year old (the middle child) is not my idea of a great time. Neither is roaring like a dinosaur at each other over and over again.
I have to remind myself that it’s not all about me. The little guy needs as much of me as my daughters do, so I’ve got to push past that feeling, and discover my inner dinosaur and athlete.
Give kids the language they need for forgiveness to move past sibling fighting.
Ugh. There’s nothing that annoys me more than getting into a tiff with someone and then trying to blow past it like nothing happened. That’s NOT how we heal and move past something.
As adults, we have to confront pain and anger. It’s a lifelong lesson that needs to start NOW.
In our house, if someone hurts someone else’s feelings (or just punches someone in the stomach, lol), there MUST be an apology.
Further, because we are Christians, I think it’s important to give kids vocabulary for learning about Christ. So we don’t say, “That’s okay.” We say, “I forgive you.”
It may seem like a subtle difference, but it means a lot to us. “I forgive you,” means “I acknowledge that what you did was wrong, and I’m not ignoring that. But I will choose to love you anyway and be humble enough to recognize that we all need forgiveness.”
“It’s fine,” or “It’s okay,” means something entirely different. It means that what you did wasn’t a big deal. We only use that language for accidents.
Similarly, we say, “I’m sorry,” but I push back when they say, “I didn’t mean to,” unless it was truly an accident. I will often say, “Actually, you DID mean to, you just regretted it when you saw that it caused pain.”
The better thing to say is, “I’m sorry. I wish I didn’t do that. Will you forgive me?”
This forces the sibling to recognize that what they did actually was a moment of sinfulness (if that’s part of your family’s vocabulary). It’s important for kids to learn humility and also grace.
My daughter does NOT like recognizing her own icky-ness. But we all have to recognize the ick in order to become better humans. That’s called growth.
PS, if you’re interested in more faith-based parenting tips, here’s my post all about the best children’s Bibles, sorted by age group.
Stay out of sibling fighting as often as possible.
I give my kids the language they need for forgiveness and reconcilitation sometimes. It’s a really important concept for me to teach as a Christian mom who is trying to raise my kids in our family’s faith.
But as far as intervening in every dang argument? No ma’am.
For one thing, it’s probably a bit of lazy parenting. Nobody’s got time or energy to get involved in every single bout of fussing.
But also, it’s good for my kids to be fighting all the time. Here’s why.
Teach them each other’s love languages.
There’s a reason that Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages Books are so popular among marriage and family therapists.
The concept is so simple, but incredibly powerful.
First, kids need to know that fighting is normal and part of being a family. But if conflict is all a sibling knows, there’s no love there.
You can’t drain someone’s love tank all day and never put anything back in the tank.
My oldest’s love language is gifts. I know this intuitively because she’s constantly crafting little things for family and friends. She’s always so proud to give it away. It took me an embarrassingly long time to start returning the favor.
One day, I surprised her with the simplest stick figure drawing of us holding hands, and it said, “Mama loves you forever.” It nearly broke my heart when I saw how much joy was on her face because of such a simple act.
Her brother is too little to understand the concept of love languages, but I can encourage him to make her sticker pages and drawings. He does so, and it just means everything to her.
His older sister is capable of understanding love languages. I can remind her that if she will honor her brother’s love language of “quality time,” by tossing a ball back and forth for 10 minutes, he’ll feel more love from her than if she paints him a picture.
It’s important to teach kids how to show love in a way that is other-centered.
Install mailboxes with each family member’s name on them.
Since my oldest daughter loves making things for family members, we really love these mailboxes that are posted outside of every bedroom. Ours are labeled with each family member’s name.
It’s handy for more practical purposes like passing off school papers from the backpack.
More importantly, it’s a really special way to leave notes for each other.
Here is the mailbox we use from Amazon. It’s a great quality one. I’ve also seen people spray paint these, and that’s super cute, too! We preferred ours plain.
Be strict about daily quiet time.
When the wheels are coming off and there’s constant sibling fighting, it’s important to go back to basics. Is everyone adequately fed and rested?
One way we ensure that breaks are scheduled and tempers have a chance to cool is by abiding by a strict “read and rest” each day.
The kids aren’t required to fall asleep, but they MUST be in their rooms with doors shut.
We schedule our read and rest during the baby’s nap time so that I get 75 daily minutes of quiet time with all three kids in their rooms.
This also allows for something very healthy: boredom. Boredom is healthy for kids. Do the kids sometimes push back against read and rest? Sure! But they get to do it every day anyway, and it’s so consistent that it’s not a fight.
Our oldest is in school, but she still has read and rest on the weekends.
Teach them how to overcome tattling.
When my kids get into a pattern of fighting a lot, I notice the tattling ramping back up, even after I think we’ve kicked the habit.
Just like in an elementary school classroom, tattling at home can wreck the morale of everyone in the home.
I love this take on tattling from Sarah at the Stay at Home Educator: simply ask the tattler, “What would you like to tell (insert sibling name)?”
This teaches the child how to communicate with their sibling about what’s bothering them in a calm way.
She also talks about the importance of teaching your kids the difference between tattling and reporting. Obviously, reporting is used when someone isn’t being safe or is otherwise in danger. Tattling is something kids do when they need help maintaining rules and order.
This is another way of changing the mood in the household. Anyone who’s ever had a baby remembers how outside time can often soothe a cranky infant. The same goes for all of us, really.
We all need fresh air to lift our spirits sometimes. We all know that our kids spend more time indoors than in decades past.
My daughter really dislikes being sent outside. I do it anyway, because she needs it, and I’m a mean mom like that.
Sibling fighting can come to a halt if you just insist they go outdoors. Something about the change of scenery can really make a huge difference in everyone’s attitude. And BONUS! You get a break from the hollering and fussing.
Make sure you have some decent outdoor toys to try to extend their time outside. We often will have after school snack outdoors, and reading time outside is always allowed. If my kids fight me on going outside, I set a timer and send them outside anyway. Often, they’ll play far past the specified time.