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Fighting Off Sibling Squabbles

Friendly sibling playtime is often interrupted by bouts of fighting, name-calling, hitting, or even ganging up on one another. Read this expert advice to help resolve sibling quarrels.

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My kids, ages five, eight, and 10, seem to be fighting a lot more lately. While I know they love each other and can see that they have fun together, their fun is often interrupted by alarmingly intense bouts of fighting that include name-calling, hitting, or ganging up on one another. Time-outs and punishments haven’t helped. What can I do to stop the fighting?

Brittni Fudge, owner and therapist at Kindred Counseling, PLLC, offers the following advice for parents:

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First, know that you’re not alone. All siblings have both conflict and chaos, as well as laughter and love. It’s only natural that you want more of the latter. And guess what? Your children probably do too. They just don’t know how to fight less. As the young humans they are, they don’t know how to manage all of their emotions, needs, and shared space without a lot of time, practice, and coaching.

Second, know that distraction, time-outs, and illogical punishments rob us of the opportunity to teach our children problem-solving skills so that they know how to handle similar situations in the future.

So what can you do instead?

I recommend letting them work it out on their own as much as possible, as long as no one’s safety is being threatened. If you feel the situation is escalating and you do need to step in, follow these guidelines:

  1. Recognize each child’s feelings and needs. Feelings and needs drive behavior. If they’re too tired, hungry, or overstimulated, it’s going to be hard for them to keep their cool when things get tough.
  2. Acknowledge needs and empathize. Part of the battle is helping your children notice and name their emotions and needs. You might say, “Your behavior is showing me that you are frustrated and bored. I get cranky when I’m frustrated sometimes, too. (This is essential; it normalizes their needs while reducing shame.) Let’s switch gears and play a board game.”
  3. Timing is everything. If your kids need to learn to compromise and you launch into a lecture about it while they’re all still crying, your message will be lost, they won’t feel validated or heard, and the problem will likely be exacerbated. Instead, model good coping skills by staying calm yourself. Try saying, “It’s hard to talk when we’re upset. Let’s talk later once we’ve all calmed down.” Delaying the teachable moment to a time when their emotions are no longer escalated allows them to listen and ask questions—none of which can happen when everyone is yelling.

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