Do you have a go-to answer for resolving sibling fighting? Or do you find yourself helplessly drowning in the sea of sibling squabbles?
If you’re a mom, the sibling fighting scene is all too familiar. “He hit me,” she whines from down the hallway. “You hit me first,” he jeers back at her.
I can remember as a young parent having someone tell me that sibling fighting was “normal” and that there was little you could do about it as a parent. Of course, back then I was too naive to really have a good response for that person, but I still knew in my heart that this kind of behavior couldn’t be acceptable.
Yes, it is normal for siblings to fight. It is our own fleshly response to want our way. This selfishness is something we all battle. So yes, sibling fighting is normal. But should it be ignored and chalked up as something that we as parents can do nothing about?
Of course not! Every Christian has to learn to control their own selfish desires and put the needs of others first. It doesn’t matter if the person is a sibling or not, we are going to come up against rivalry or discord frequently in our lives. As parents, it’s our job to help our children learn to deal with these situations, not ignore them.
So, what do I do when a squabbling sibling pair comes barreling at me?
I won’t even pretend to have all of the parenting answers, especially when it comes to sibling relationships. But I can share 5 simple principles to help stop the squabbling. These are foundational principles you can apply to any occasion of sibling fighting.
5 Top Tips for Stopping Sibling Fighting
1. Don’t Negotiate the Blame
The very first thing the children want to do in a conflict is blame each other AND have mom/dad put blame on the other sibling. Do NOT allow them to do this. It’s an age-old trick from back in the day of the garden. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. The enemy has been using the blame game to lure us into sin and to destroy families for centuries. Don’t allow it.
When conflict arises, refuse to be Judge Judy. I won’t allow my kids to talk about what the other person did. I teach them to figure out what THEY did wrong. Did they say or do something to cause the other person to feel hurt or upset? Did they forget to put something away that caused someone to trip? Is there anything they can do right now to solve the problem so it’s no longer an issue?
All of these questions are good, but the last one is typically a game-changer. In a situation of conflict, even if we are not to blame at all, there is typically something we can do to diffuse the tension.
For example, my daughter was playing the piano in the living room first. Her brother came in and wanted to watch TV. They couldn’t both play and hear, so a fight broke out. Who is technically wrong? Clearly, my son is at fault. BUT, my daughter could have used the piano headphones and everyone would have been happy. This is a better solution than “I was here first.” It teaches kids to consider the needs and desires of the other person, instead of demanding their perceived “rights.”
2. Hold Everyone Responsible for Sibling Fighting
Tightly linked to #1, we must hold every child responsible for their part in the situation. If Johnny hit Katie because Katie hit him first, who is in trouble? BOTH of them. Since hitting is never allowed, there is no grace extended for the person who hit out of retaliation.
Before you throw up your hands crying injustice, don’t forget that the adult life is like this. There may be some grace extended if you were provoked, but if you beat up the soccer coach because he called your kid a nasty name, trust me, you are the one going to jail.
I also take this a step further and hold everyone present responsible for not intervening in the situation. I do this primarily for my older kids. Should they sit by and watch their younger siblings punch each other? Absolutely not! They need to get involved and help troubleshoot before it gets that far.
3. Remove the Problem
So this might seem obvious, but if something is a problem for your children, remove it. If they can’t get along while choosing a movie, there’s no movie that day. If the little guys are fighting over a dump truck, the truck will need to go in mom’s safekeeping garage. The Bible says that if your hand is causing you to sin, you should cut it off.
Now please, don’t take that to mean I want you to cut off your kids’ hands. Haha. But you get the idea. Get rid of the item that is causing the issue. If your kids are younger, 20-30 minutes might be a good time frame for the toy’s time out. If your kids are older (say 8-12), it might be a whole day or even a week. Make the penalty fit the crime. If it’s often argued over, more time might be needed.
I’m always amazed at how practical this tip is. Once I’ve taken toys or items to time-out, even a simple reminder when I hear the temperature rise is enough to keep the kids from getting out of control next time.
4. A Firm Sharing Policy Stops Sibling Fighting
This is possibly some of the best parenting advice I was ever given in those early years. From the beginning, I never talked about toys or things in our house as belonging to one particular person. We share them. We share the computer, the couch, the toys, and even the dishes. There is very little that isn’t shared. (By the way, so glad we share the dishes.)
In fact, we don’t actually own ANYTHING. God does. If we are blessed enough to have a possession it’s because God has already shared with us. How can we not share with others? We’ve been entrusted as the manager of this possession. We should teach our kids to be good stewards of that honor.
Our toys are placed in a central location so everyone can enjoy them. This gives everyone the idea that we are indeed sharing them. As my children got older and began to have specific interests, I began to allow them to have special things, but still always with the preface that we need to share the gifts that are given to us.
For example, my oldest loves model horses. They tend to break easily and her younger brother could harm them. So, he is allowed to play with them ONLY if they are playing together and she is watching him and guiding him to care for the toys.
5. Give It Some Space
This one sounds kind of funny after the “sharing policy” mentioned above but bear with me. We all need designated space. We need a place where we can go if we need a few minutes without our 3-year-old brother poking us in the back. The older your children get, the more you will notice this need.
Take some time and help them establish their own space. It might be their own room or it might just be their own bed. Wherever it is, they can go there and expect peace. Help them establish boundaries for their siblings that need to be respected.
For example, my girls now have their own rooms. Their younger brothers are still allowed to enter the rooms (I will not allow them to say no to this). However, they ask that their brothers not enter unless they knock and wait to be invited in. This keeps them out of the special toys and things that are precious to the girls, but also reminds everyone that we are a family who loves each other.
We don’t want to exclude anyone from our space on a regular basis, but I definitely want each child to have a safe place to go when they need a minute to regroup.
So that’s it. These principles for stopping sibling fighting are not a fool-proof miracle pill. But they will help your children decrease the number of sibling squabbles. Just remember to maintain a right perspective on the journey. God has a lot to say about fostering sibling love.
Sibling fighting is an ongoing battle because our selfish desires will always be a struggle this side of Heaven.
Yes, that means every other parent STILL sees sibling fighting in their home even when they teach their children diligently. Remember to extend grace to your children and always be discipling them as they learn to love their siblings the way God intended.
Consequences for Fighting Siblings
When it comes to consequences for sibling fighting, I’m a firm believer that consequences should be purposeful and build their relationship. Punishments often reprimand without giving kids the tools they need to learn how to compromise, apologize, and take responsibility.
This list of consequences will help build the sibling relationship while also teaching them that their choice to fight will not bring blessing.
5-Minutes of Kindness
I often implement this consequence. When my kids choose to say hurtful things to one another, then it’s time to battle those words with kindness. I set a 5-minute timer and the kids it near each other giving complements back and forth until the timer dings. If they simply repeat what his or her sibling says, the timer starts again. If they start fighting during the 5-minutes, the timer starts again.
Write a Letter of Apology
The art of writing heart-felt letters has become nearly extinct in our society. But getting a hand-written letter is still really meaningful. When a sibling does or says something to hurt another, I sometimes have them write a letter of apology.
Teach Them the “When you ___, I feel ____” Phrase
This phrase is relationally powerful when teaching the skill of clear communication. Too often, people don’t know how to clearly communicate how they feel without getting angry or defensive. Teaching this phrase gives kids a tool in communication that they can carry into their adulthood. When one sibling says this phrase, encourage the other sibling to repeat to show they understand. “I understand why that would make you feel that way. Please forgive me. I don’t want to treat you that way.”
Give a “Do-Over”
We don’t want our kids to grow up thinking they always get do-overs. Sometimes consequences are swift and don’t include second chances. However, giving siblings a chance at a “do-over” when they’ve chosen to use their words or hands as weapons, teaches them grace. It helps them practice a better way to respond.
Have Them Serve Together
When we focus on a common goal, we’re forced to work together. Remind your kids that they’re a team – that God made them to lift each other up and work together. Then have them serve together. They might bake cookies for the neighbor or do yardwork for a grandparent. Whatever the task, the idea is that they practice working together rather than against one another.
Write Words of Encouragement on the Mirror
Give each of the siblings a dry erase marker and have them write 5 things they like or appreciate about the other sibling on the bathroom mirror. Once they have the list written, encourage them to read the list aloud to their sibling.
Have Siblings Pray Together
Have the siblings pray together. Teach them to confess their sin to God, ask for His forgiveness, and ask Him for strength to make wise choices in their sibling relationships.
Have the siblings sit together, identify the problem, and come up with at least 3 other solutions that would be a better choice than fighting. Have them rate the solutions, choose the best, and then commit to trying that solution the next time a similar problem arises.
Read Proverbs 12:18 Together
Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Have your kids identify words they said that were rash and hurtful. Then have them think of ways they could have spoken their concerns to bring healing.
Practice Memorizing a Verse that Addresses the Issue
Is someone in the home struggling with anger? There are verses for that. Is someone jealous? There are verses for that. Are people bickering constantly? There are verses for that. The Word addresses a plethora of heart issues. Have your kids identify the heart issue in their sibling fighting and then find a verse to memorize that can help them when the issue arises again.
Answers to Top Questions about Sibling Relationships
- Is it normal for siblings to fight?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” Yes it’s normal because siblings are human. And we as humans are naturally selfish. We naturally want things our way in our time on our terms. When you put two selfish creatures in the same space for extended periods of time, fighting is inevitable. The solution is simple: Jesus.
Ultimately, all of us need Jesus. We need Jesus to convict and change us. We need Jesus to help us love each other well. We need Jesus to do what only Jesus can do. And He’s able to do a transformative work in relationships! Is fighting normal? Yes. Is it hopelessly inevitable? No, because Jesus is still in the business of changing hearts.
- Why do siblings annoy each other?
This goes back to the above answer. We’re all fallen humans with a bent towards selfishness. When you add the close proximity of living together, siblings have an up-close look at one another’s weaknesses. Couple that with the bent towards selfishness, and you have a breeding ground for annoyance. In fact on some days, it feels as if siblings are trying out for the who-can-annoy-each-other-more Olympics.
The solution again is simple (in theory – sometimes harder in practice). The solution is Jesus. The more siblings look at Jesus and His character, the more they will be able to see when they’re stepping outside of His loving ways in their sibling relationships.
- What age does sibling rivalry start?
As soon as a child learns the word “mine,” sibling rivalry can begin. Is it inevitable? Not necessarily. A lot of will depend on personality. Some kids are naturally more compliant. Others are more strong-willed. But as soon as a child recognizes that they have a will of their own – which can be as early as 18 months – the possibility of rivalry exists.
- How do you stop siblings from fighting?
There are a few things we as parents can do to help stop siblings from fighting. One, and most importantly, pray. Pray for your kids. Pray that God would convict their individual hearts. Pray that He would open their eyes to love and kindness. Pray they would desire to love each other well.
Two, be consistent. Listen, I know that consistency is challenging. Life happens fast. We’ve got schedules and commitments. People have good days and bad days. Attitudes can flare – both theirs and ours! But consistency really does help stop the sibling fighting. Keeping the above consequences in your parenting “tool belt” will help equip for consistency. The more kids realize that consequences will be consistent consequences, the more self-control they will exhibit.
Three, give yourself (and your kids) grace. Remember, we’re all in process. Kids will make mistakes. You and I as the parents will make mistakes. Take a deep breath and remember that ultimately God has to move in the hearts of our kids. That isn’t a cop-out, it’s the safety net. It’s the foundation we have to build our parenting upon so that we move through our days with hope.
- What do I do when siblings hurt each other?
As mentioned above in the effective consequences section, the goal when addressing sibling fighting is to get to the heart. We want to help our kids see that hurting their sibling is ultimately rebellion from God and His law of love. We want to teach our kids to confess their sin and equip them to resolve a situation.
When siblings hurt each other, make sure you aren’t too angry when you address the situation. This may mean a personal time-out. Believe me, I have to take these often. Jumping into a sibling fighting situation with our own anger leading the way will only make things worse. Once we’re calm, we’re more ready to address the situation with wisdom.
After everyone has calmed down, then it’s time to implement a consequence similar to the ones listed above. Remember, the goal is heart-change.
Need More Help with Sibling Relationships?
If you’re looking for more help with sibling relationships, check out these other blog posts:
- Visit our Sibling Rivalry Help Center for more tips and resources.
- Teach your children the 6 special reasons God gave them siblings and how to foster sibling love.
- Help your kids learn how to build strong sibling relationships.
- Here are 8 awesome gifts for siblings!
What have you found to work in dealing with siblings fighting? Share them in the comments below!
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.