Dear Dr. Renee,
My kids fight constantly with each other. It only intensified during the pandemic. I don’t care why they are fighting, I just want the sibling squabbles to stop!
I never understood why it bothered my mom, an only child, so much when my sister and I fought. Then I had children of my own …
I see you said you don’t care “why” and think you meant “what” they are fighting about. Figuring out “why” they fight might be helpful in stopping and even preventing the squabbles. That said, this does not mean you have to become a referee!
Sometimes kids fight just to have something to do. Other times, they fight because one of them wants attention. It ends up being negative attention, but it is attention just the same.
Sibling squabbles are a great chance for children to learn the life lesson of “getting along” but can be so frustrating as a parent.
If one of your children needs attention, you could help him find positive, appropriate ways to ask for that attention – either from his sibling or from someone else.
You are not a referee.
If your kids are fighting over a toy, if you have not already, it is important to teach them how to negotiate or work it out (i.e., compromise or walk away). Once you have taught the lesson, possibly a few times, then you need to step back and let them work it out.
Ultimately, you want them to learn how to problem solve on their own.
If you have taught this lesson and are sure they understand it, even if they are not experts yet, then there are a few things you can do to help it along. You are not going to problem-solve for them (referee), you will just, let’s say, provide some incentives for them not to fight around you.
Provide incentives for your children not to fight near you.
For example, if your children are calling each other names, you step in and tell them they now have to come up with 5 good names to all their sibling (great dancer, good goal scorer, responsible dog-walker). They can not go back and play until they do.
After a few times, your children will either not call each other names, or they will at least not come running to report that to you.
Another incentive, for older kids, is to have them “Write – Not Fight.” They each go to their own space and write down everything that happened. This often helps them cool down. At the end of writing, they must write an apology to their sibling. This technique takes some guidance on your part. You’ll need to introduce it when everyone is calm. Then you set the expectations and use this as an advance warning. The next time they fight, they will have to “Write -Not Fight.”
And one last incentive … A mother I worked with, Jen, had three kids and the oldest two often argued with each other. Jen made her kids hug each other everytime they started fighting. They could keep yelling or arguing with each other, but they had to do so while they were hugging!
I hope this answer gets you started in figuring out the triggers and provides some guidance so you can stop the sibling squabbles. I would love to hear if you implement some of the incentives and how it goes!