How to Handle Sibling Fighting | Teaching Kids to Work Through Their Disagreements

How to Handle Kids Fighting

Inside: Dealing with a lot of sibling fighting in your home? Disagreements are bound to happen. Here’s how to handle them and teach your children to work through them.

How to Handle Sibling Fighting: teaching kids how to disagree

Tears streaming.
Everyone’s screaming.
Two of my children are in front of me, trying to yell their side of the story loudest, hoping they’ll be the one I deem as “right.”
One is clenching their fists and turning red.
The other is jumping up and down in frustration.

And I’m standing there, becoming frustrated myself and wondering how we got to this point and how I can make it STOP.

On any given day, this is the scenario I picture as I hear those tell-tale signs. The huffs. Their pitch and volume increasing as they begin to disagree. A stomp here. An “I’m not playing with you anymore” there. The scene I described above is where I know it’s headed.

So as soon as I hear it, my anxiety starts to rise. I want to stop it in it’s tracks. I want them to get along. To not have all these sibling spats.

But unfortunately, that’s just not realistic.

The truth is, siblings are going to argue…

What we can change is how they do it. How they process their emotions, express them, and how well they listen to others and consider their point-of-view.

My kids at the pond, spending quality time.

The Old Way of Dealing with Sibling Fighting

My usual way of handling their arguments was what I thought was the right way.

Get them to stop yelling.
Have each tell their side of the story.
Put on my judge hat and decide what each of them did wrong.
Talk to them about it.
Make them apologize and hug it out.
Time-outs given when/if necessary.
If I’d refereed my limit of fights for the day, I’d tap out and have them figure it all out themselves. After all, they have to figure it out at some point, right?

But was it working? Was I teaching them anything about empathy or understanding the other person? Was I teaching them how to work through their emotions without throwing verbal darts at other people? Was I preventing future meltdowns? Or just getting by? (And even doing some damage by trying to get them to stuff their feelings?)

So I went searching.

For the most part, I found other people doing things similar to what I was already doing. I also found tips about things like getting a giant tee shirt for them to share, making them hold hands, sit nose to nose or wash opposite sides of the same glass. All of that (while tempting) sounded more like punishing them with each other’s presence. That was the opposite of what I wanted.

So what was a method that would actually work and help them learn valuable communication skills in the process?

"How can we expect our kids to learn patience and empathy if we don't teach them?" Teach kids patience and empathy - How to handle sibling fighting

The New Way

As I shared with you in another post, God has been really changing my perspective on parenting. While I could understand the thought process behind all the usual methods of dealing with sibling rivalry, my heart was telling me there was more. There had to be a better way. Settling for “well they just don’t like each other. Let them sort it out” wasn’t going to cut it.

I understand I can’t always be the referee. Who even wants to do that? I know allowing them to solve their own conflicts fosters independence and maturity. But my kids need tools to figure it out first, or it will be the blind leading the blind. Nothing will truly get resolved, and no lessons on empathy and respect for relationships with others will actually be learned.

I looked at a ton of resources. And finally I was able to boil it down to the absolute best ways to help my kids transform their relationship.

First things first, home environment matters! But I also found a really practical way to deal with the conflict while it’s happening. Ready?

Before a Fight Erupts

Preventing outbursts sometimes comes down to having the right foundations already in place for solid relationships and good self-esteem. Here are some things to have in place as a constant:

For positive parent/child relationships

  • Emphasize strengths in all your children, praise them individually, honor their individuality & celebrate their differences.
  • Allow unconditional love to rule in your home.
  • Fill each child’s cup with love and attention often, and regularly spend one-on-one time with them.
  • Try not to yell. Monkey see, monkey do, right? If we handle conflicts by yelling, chances are they will too. For more on that, read this post.

For positive sibling relationships

  • Have a zero tolerance policy for yelling, hitting, saying mean things, etc.
  • Give them problems to solve together, and play games that require them to work as a team
  • Acknowledge & praise them when they’re helping one another
  • Avoid interrupting happy play
  • Make sure each gets their personal space
  • Raise their oxytocin levels with laughing, singing, dancing, rough-housing, etc.
  • Teach them to pray for one another

A good idea shared on another blog: teach them that its their choice how they react to other people. For more on that, you can read this article by Mama in the Now.

A Word on Being a Prayerful Mom

What are you seeing in your home? Either when your children fight or just in general. Anger, frustration, misunderstanding, impatience, selfishness? Pray against those things!

In their place, ask God to strengthen everyone’s desire for His peace, joy, kindness, and unity (or the fruits of His Spirit in general). Ask Him to help each person with understanding. And daily choose unconditional love and respect for others in your home.

It starts with us. We’re the homemakers, not just outwardly but spiritually as well. Water the garden of your heart by drinking from the well of the Word daily. It will give you sound wisdom and better equip you to have the right perspective and the words to say in the moment. Time with God makes us better models for our kids and gives us the patience to walk through the hard stuff with mercy and grace.

Time in the word and prayer help in all facets of life, including when we need guidance for parenting our children through their disagreements.

When Conflict Strikes

When conflict does arise, be prepared to be patient. Especially in the beginning. We’re in the early stages of implementing this strategy in our home, and it isn’t something that just happens over night.

When I was researching, I nearly leaped out of my seat after coming to a blog post on the “Peace Process.” I’ll include the link below. I LOVE the author and her perspective. It’s full of truth and wisdom. Definitely worth the read!

So what exactly does this process entail?

The Peace Process

1) Calm down

First things first–take a deep breath. I know the rush of irritation that comes from hearing the whining voices and stomping feet. But our level of calmness affects theirs. Conflict is normal, and how we model frustration-management matters because it’s going to shape how they see conflict and manage it in the future.

Once you’re calm and ready to jump in, address the kids.

"Mom sets the mood. Aim to be a thermostat instead of a thermometer." How to handle sibling fights

Simply put, we all need our space sometimes in the heat of debate. Especially if feelings have been hurt. If everyone is yelling over top of each other and the tears are rolling, give them a minute. See if they calm down when they notice you’re calm.

If not, use a firm voice to cut through the noise, and ask if they need a break on their own before working anything out.

2) Understand each other

This step is for both us and our kids.

While they’re calming down, ask yourself how you can let the kids know you understand the way they’re feeling. Also think about how you may be able to help them understand one another.

When they’re ready, ask them to think about how the other person may be feeling. It’s important not to take sides here. Stay neutral, remembering the problem is whatever they’re arguing about, NOT them.

Once each of them has given an explanation of the other’s feelings, have them give one another feedback. Were they spot on? Or were they interpreting the other child’s feelings incorrectly?

3) Solve the conflict

Ask them:

  • In this situation, what could you have done differently to keep from fighting?
  • Did your actions hurt someone else? How?
  • How do you want to make things right?

At first, they’ll most likely need help processing through this step, especially if they’re used to the blame game. This method emphasizes taking responsibility for your own actions instead of looking at what others did wrong.

"It takes a big heart to shape little minds."

It is so so so important during this phase to remember: no condemnation.

The way we word these questions and the tone of our voice as we deliver them really makes a difference. If you’re trying to heap shame on them for not communicating effectively, it’s not going to solve the problem. In reality, it will make them more likely to lie or become defensive.

It’s super easy for us to jump in and start pointing fingers. But if this is going to work, we need to help them realize where they went wrong and what they could have done better. And they won’t do that if they have their defenses up.

Side note: make sure children know the difference between an argument and bullying. It’s important for them to know if someone is bullying them, there’s nothing they personally did wrong.

4) Celebrate

Woohoo! They did it, and you’re one step closer to intervening a lot less. High fives and encouraging words all around! Even baby steps of progress are worth praise. It’s hard to work through issues even for us adults sometimes!

After helping the kids work through their arguments, make sure to celebrate (for them and you)!

For more on the Peace Process and other truly awesome tidbits, visit To Love, Honor, and Vacuum’s article here.

Doesn’t sound like it’s for you? Of course there are other methods out there. This is just the one we chose for our home. Another great idea from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls: along with using more behavioral methods to address the conflict, address the heart with engaging Bible lessons at home. You can check out her verse lesson on Proverbs 12:18 here.

There ya have it! It’s all about creating positive relationships, being prayerful, and implementing a plan that teaches kids to examine their own hearts and what they could do better.

Sure, it’s a lot of work to get there. But for us, it’s worth it to transform our family and get our kids character development off to a healthy start.

What other ways have you found that work for handling sibling fighting? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Audriana

New here? Learn more about our family here, and check out our YouTube channel!

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