When I work with parents with more than one child, the number one thing they struggle with is: fighting.
For many parents, our kids not getting along triggers worry deep within us that they may never get along. It can lead to a situation where we react in a knee-jerk, repetitive and loud manner.
Under pressure, parents may yell and punish the offending child. Then everyone feels awful, and you may as well set a 20-minute timer until the next fight because when our reactions are repetitive, knee jerk and loud the one thing we can guarantee is: it is going to happen again. And again.
How we react to sibling fighting matters.
Here are my top five tips for changing our reactions to fighting and therefore the GAME when it comes to sibling struggles:
1. Welcome conflict (and step out of the middle)
Conflict is how our kids learn about power and negotiation. It’s healthy.Next time your kids come running to you with a conflict maybe you could try saying “wow sounds like you guys have a big problem, I wonder how you can solve it?” The less we step in as a habit the less our kids request our involvement in their fights.
2. Be a commentator, not a referee
When they need more support – The trick is being able to be a commentator (who sets a few ground rules) – not a referee.
When we are able to have some basic rules (like, we don’t hit or hurt) our kids are free to get into healthy, noisy conflicts as long as they don’t break the ground rules. When the ground rules get broken we need to set a boundary. But otherwise, just be a commentator and let your kids work it out.
This makes our role clearer, we are just nearby ready to name what’s happening without passing judgment. “you both want the same block….. tricky situation guys.”
3. Spot the protagonist – it nearly always takes two to tango.
We are quick to blame the eldest or one particular child, but stepping back and knowing that two usually play a role in sibling struggles helps to keep us out of a pattern of blaming only one child.
4. Start with connection
You want to connect with both kids, and as crazy as it seems, getting in low and close with the hitter/snatcher/one in the wrong is important.
Finding out what happened, in their words without placing judgment can allow them to feel seen and heard. Try really putting yourself in your child’s shoes and empathise.
This allows them to feel seen and heard which is more likely to prevent repeated fights than punishment or blame.
5. Welcome the feelings
When we can welcome the feelings our kids have about their siblings it helps. You may say to your eldest child “Yeah, it’s really hard being a big brother some days”
Sibling struggles are healthy and very normal. But if they are feeling like they are dominating your space remember that the way we respond will either calm fear and build connection, or fuel the fire and intensify feelings of jealousy.