Sibling fights are simply part of growing up but they can be very discouraging for parents. It can feel like our day is nothing but playing referee between our little darlings. One approach to this is to allow the kids to work out their own solutions to their disagreements. Kids can be imaginative when it comes to compromise. When we take this approach, it encourages thinking and discourages tattling.
Constant bickering can be really distracting and annoying, which is usually our motivation for getting involved in the first place. In this case, tell the kids to find another location for their fight, saying something like “Hey kids, take it outside.” When kids emotions are heightened, their ears are not working so its a waste of time to try to teach them in that moment. Waiting until after they’ve resolved the issue is the most productive time to teach.
What do we need to teach at that point? First, we want to help them identify their feelings. Were they feeling mad, sad, frustrated, left out or something else? Naming their feelings if they cannot, is a useful tool for expanding their emotional vocabulary. Kids fight with fists when they don’t have words to express what they are feeling. Giving them an expanded emotional vocabulary is a valuable tool in the adult world both in work and in relationships. Second, we need to teach them different ways of handling those emotions. To express empathy with our child we might say “If I hit my boss when I didn’t get what I want, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as happy as I would if I handled my frustration another way.” We could ask “What’s a way that each of you could have some of what you want?” Now this is a skill I wish our polititians had learned as kids!
“Kids fight with fists when they don’t have words to express what they are feeling.”
Now, we all know a kid, maybe our own, who seems to love to actually beat up on the littler kids. We can’t see this method being effective with him. In this case, the parent needs to step in to prevent actual harm. For these kids it is best to tie a deterent to his behavior. For instance, if he pushes, punches or in any way abuses his siblings, he immediately goes to clean up the dog poop in the yard, or folds laundry or cleans the baseboards with a toothbrush. This works great because he begins to attach his actions to the tasks you’ve assigned that behavior, making them less attractive. Bonus, you get a chore that you hate doing done regularly until he makes the connection and stops the bad behavior. Win-win!!