While it's normal for siblings to bicker, argue and fight with each other, you might often feel at the end of your rope. Children typically fight more in families with parents who believe fighting and aggressive behavior are acceptable methods to resolve conflicts, according to the University of Michigan Health System website. Siblings fight for a variety of reasons, including not wanting to share, jealousy, competitiveness, to win parental attention, a desire for more independence or because they're hungry, tired or bored. You can help stop their fighting by teaching healthier communication skills.
Remain calm and attempt to placate the fighting siblings. Avoid taking sides or trying to discern which sibling initiated the provocation, advises the Aha! Parenting website. You might say, "In this family, we don't hit and call each other bad names. We treat each other with love and respect."
Separate the sparring siblings in different rooms of your home if either is being physically abusive or they're out of control and unable to cool down. Enforcing a time-out until they're calm can help teach them to manage their angry feelings. Parental intervention is important because the more siblings are permitted to fight as children, the greater the chance they'll fight once they reach adulthood, according to pediatrician Dr. William Sears.
Ask each sibling to calmly express her version of what started the fight so she can learn to put feelings into words. Listen emphatically without belittling her feelings. Help your kids put those difficult emotions into words. You might say, "Sarah, did you feel John was pressuring you into playing with him?" and "John, did you feel hurt when Sarah refused to play with you?" Nurture each child's natural capacity for empathy by asking her to take turns explaining her side of the story and how she felt during the fight. Ask each sibling for suggestions on how to peacefully resolve the disagreement. With repeated practice, your children will become more skilled at resolving conflicts through healthy communication, rather than acting them out.
Set clear ground rules that fighting, shouting, hitting and bullying will not be tolerated in your home. Stress to your kids that they'll suffer consequences if they disobey the rules, such as becoming grounded or losing television or computer privileges. You might say, "We're a loving family. We don't fight, but we do resolve differences in a peaceful manner." Enforce natural consequences, such as if the siblings fight over a toy, the toy receives a time out and neither child is allowed to play with it. Forbid television privileges if they fight over which show to watch and don't reach an agreement. Enforcing natural consequences teaches them to use negotiation and compromise to resolve disagreements, rather than angry words.
Head off fights at the earliest signs of squabbling, advises Sears. Remind the siblings to resolve their differences through calm conversation and negotiation whenever they start picking on each other, or else they'll suffer the promised consequences. Encourage other outlets to release steam. You might say, "You're starting to bully your brother again. If you feel upset, go outside and hit some baseballs," or "I realize you're angry at your sister, but in this family we treat each other with respect. Instead of calling her bad names, draw me a picture of how mad you are." Your warning sends an alert to the siblings not to act out their anger but to express it in healthier ways.
Tips & Warnings
- If you're constantly angry at your kids, they might be mirroring your behavior. By learning to handle your own angry feelings, you can be a healthy role model for them.
- Seek immediate professional help from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist If either child is physically abusive toward the other.
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