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 Ways to Stop Sibling Fighting
1. Don’t negotiate the blame of sibling fighting
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. Everyone is 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. Sibling fighting can be avoided by removing 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. Space helps stop sibling fighting
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.
Need more help with sibling relationships?
- 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!