Sibling fights are right up there on the list of parental pet peeves.Â It can be annoying to hear your kids fighting in another room, and it can be agonizing to hear how they treat each other. I remember reading somewhere that research shows that siblings between the ages of 6-12 years fight on average every 10-20 minutes. Eek. If there is a silver lining to this research, though, it is the awareness that itâ€™s not just your kids â€“ all parents know this struggle!
If we think about the goals of misbehavior and why kids do what they do, fighting between siblings pretty much always falls into the “attention” category.Â Who can ignore WWIII breaking out in your family room?Â Your kids are well aware of that.Â Don’t think that they haven’t come to rely on your speedy response to their crazymaking.Â As a child, if you’re not getting your way, when Mom or Dad comes in, at least the playing field is level again. You now stand a chance of coming out on top after they make their decisions about who was in the wrong and what’s going to happen now.
One of the best ways of handling sibling fights is to simply stay out of them.Â Let everyone know at your next family meeting that your intention is to not interfere with their disagreements because you have faith in their ability to sort out their own problems.Â Then you need to follow through and allow them to actually do it, regardless of what method of conflict resolution they take.
If this approach gets particularly tense and leads to some sort of physical means of resolving the issue, there may be value in letting them sort it out themselves. For example, an effective way of learning that you shouldn’t hit your sister is getting hit right back. But if you do decide to step in, do it in a different way than you have in the past.Â Be calm, treat them all the same, don’t get involved, and give everyone choices.Â “I’ll take the toy/game/tv remote and when you guys can sort out who gets to take a turn first/who gets to roll first/what channel to watch, come and get it from me. I’ll be downstairs making dinner/folding laundry/cleaning the bathroom, and if you can’t decide, you’re welcome to come and help me.” Not only does this method encourage them to sort out their own problems through (hopefully) communication and compromise, it also sends the message that they are in this together and that you won’t get involved.Â With you as a common enemy, instead of the judge and jury, they are more likely to be motivated to work through their issues together and reach a middle ground everyone can live with.
If they’re really struggling to find a solution they’re both content with, put it on the agenda for your next family meeting, and work at solving it as a family. Talk through some basic problem solving and conflict resolution skills, tailored to the age of your children, and walk them through the process of solving this problem together. With practice, theyâ€™ll pick up on the steps theyâ€™ll need to apply to solve other problems between them.
While this strategy may not eliminate fighting between kids altogether, it will certainly help keep the conflict from getting beyond the point where they can resolve it themselves, and it will keep you from having to wade into the middle to rescue everyone, every time it happens.
By: Andrea Ramsay Speers
Andrea Ramsay Speers, M.A. is a Psychotherapist practicing in Oakville. Her entire practice is built around one purpose: helping people enjoy their families more, whether that means coaching parents in learning new parenting tools, increasing connection and harmony between couples, improving relationships with teenagers, or helping individuals overcome their feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety and start enjoying their lives again. She can be found online at www.OakvilleFamilyInstitute.com.