Sibling fighting is part of growing up. If you have multiple children, you have to face the fact that fights are inevitable. Someone will inevitably stand in front of the TV for a second longer than necessary or refuse to share the last Girl Scout cookie. There will be shouting, arguments, and most likely tears. No mom can completely eliminate fights from their family. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to minimize arguments and encourage your kids to get along.
Here are a few tips to help moms defend against sibling fighting.
1. Be the right kind of example.
You can’t just tell your kids what to do, you have to show them. As the parent, you are your kids’ fearless leader. Even if they’re at an age when all they want to do is rebel, they’ll still take note of your behavior. It’s your job to show them the appropriate way to handle disputes.
This doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to get into arguments—it’s the opposite, actually. Your kids are smart enough to know that even adults get into disagreements. The key is showing your kids the appropriate way to handle those situations. So when you and your spouse disagree, feel free to settle that issue in front of your kids. But instead of getting into a screaming match, work through the situation using calm tones and problem solving. Show your kids that two people can disagree without screaming their heads off or throwing punches.
2. Make sure your kids know the rules.
Kids love to push boundaries. And if they’re not 100% clear of the rules and the consequences of breaking those rules, they’ll keep pushing until something breaks—usually your sanity.
Make it extremely clear what is allowed and what isn’t. Are your kids allowed to scream at each other? Are they allowed to call each other hurtful names? Decide where you draw the line, and explicitly let your kids know what those lines are. While you’re at it, outline what happens when those lines are crossed. Be as specific as possible, and always follow through.
3. Know the signs and prevent it from escalating.
You know your kids better than anyone else. You also have a good idea of who gets along with whom and what can trigger an argument. It’s not your job to moderate sibling interactions 24/7, but if you sense something brewing, there are ways you can de-escalate the situation. For example, if you know your kids get irritable when they’re tired, don’t try to force “family fun time” when one kid missed a nap. The same goes for when kids are hungry or stressed.
If you have little kids, distractions work well to stop arguments. Suggesting a new activity or offering an alternative communication outlet can often derail what could potentially turn into an all-out fight. Older kids are a bit trickier, but jumping into things before it gets bad can help keep the peace.
4. Treat all combatants equally.
Attempting to de-escalate the situation is one thing, but make sure you don’t take sides in the process. Your job as the parent is to treat all kids equally, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling one kid as a victim and the other as a bully.
Sure, there might be a situation when it’s in your family’s best interest to investigate a situation and find out who did what. But in most petty arguments, it doesn’t matter who started it. What matters is that both kids decided to let the issue get out of control. In these cases, dole out punishments equally. If kids think they have a chance of “winning” an argument, they’re likely to keep fighting. But if you take winning off the table and consistently punish all fighters equally, your kids might eventually get the hint and lose interest in arguing about silly things.
5. Keep calm.
When kids are screaming, it’s easy to let your blood boil. Listening to sibling fighting is frustrating, and it’s a proven fact that bad moods are contagious. But when you walk into a room full of pointless arguing, do your best to keep your chill. Joining the fight will make it worse.
Every kid needs to learn conflict resolution, and sibling fighting is the perfect opportunity for that important life lesson. You can insert yourself into the situation if you’re going to defuse tensions and lead by example, but don’t start yelling. Keep your voice calm and show your kids that it’s possible to control emotions when things get heated.
6. Create opportunities for your kids to work together, not against each other.
Preventing sibling fighting is a long-term goal. Even if you do everything on this list, you can’t expect constant fighting to disappear overnight. You have to think about the long game. One way to do that is to regularly provide your kids opportunities to work together.
Team building activities teach kids that they can accomplish great things when they aren’t fighting. You don’t have to sign your family up for one of those team building retreats, but you can encourage your kids to spend time together doing constructive activities. Games where they have to work together instead of against each other are great, and so are puzzles, projects, and major crafts.