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.
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. I know where it’s headed.
So as soon as I hear it, I want to stop it in it’s tracks. Like most moms, I want my children to get along and for our days to not be dampened with sibling fighting. I want them to end forever.
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 handle their emotions
- how they express their thoughts
- and how well they listen to others and consider their point-of-view.
My Old Way of Dealing with Sibling Fighting
I thought I was handling the arguments the right way. And it truly wasn’t bad.
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 out themselves. After all, they have to figure it out at some point, right?
In the spirit of transparency, for some families, this works out just fine. And if it does for ours, that’s great!
But was it working for us? Was I teaching them anything? Was I working toward fewer future meltdowns? Or just getting by?
I’ve also seen 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) sounds more like punishing them with each other’s presence. That’s the opposite of what we want.
So what will actually work and help them learn valuable communication skills in the process?
An Alternative Way
While I can understand the thought process behind all the usual methods of dealing with children fighting, they don’t seem to work.
Instead, our children need to understanding how to work through their issues. Without that, nothing will truly get resolved, and no lessons on biblical kindness and respect for relationships with others will actually be learned.
Before a Fight Erupts
First things first, home environment matters! Preventing outbursts often comes down to having the right foundations already in place. Here are some things to have as a constant:
For positive parent/child relationships
- Emphasize God and family in your home. Don’t just talk about faith. Live it. Study the Word in front of your children and with your children. Engage in family worship. Prioritize being a part of a solid, biblical church. Be honest with your children about your struggles and the faithfulness of the Lord.
- Have a loving home environment. This doesn’t mean you’re perfect. But it does mean that when you act poorly towards your child, you take responsibility and apologize. Put off harshness, malice, and impatience. Put on gentleness, kindness, patience and understanding.
- Have consistent rules. Everyone does better when expectations are understood and just consequences are given for breech of those expectations. If the framework is already in place, it will make things easier in the moment. We do our children no favors when we don’t outline specific expectations.
- Exhibit the fruit of self-control. If we don’t control ourselves as a adults, chance are our children are going to pick up on our sinful habits. This means putting off wrath and ungodly anger (which does not produce the righteousness of God, James 1:20) and taming our tongues.
- Emphasize strengths and God-given talents in all your children. Praise them individually.
- Regularly spend one-on-one time with each child. As a homeschooling parent, sometimes it’s easy to think that I check this box naturally through my time spent teaching them daily. But each one really needs time separate from instruction to just enjoy the company of a loving parent.
For positive sibling relationships
- Teach them to pray for one another.
- Help them learn gratitude for one another. It’s easy to feel consistently frustrated toward someone who you aren’t thankful for. It’s harder to fight when you value that person and the role God has given them in your life.
- Break the “enemy” mentality. Help them to see one another as teammates instead of adversaries. 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. Praising positive efforts helps give them the incentive to do it more often. This is especially helpful if you do this while they’re still little.
- Make sure each child gets their personal space. We all need a break sometimes. For our family this happens during nap time. The two older children who no longer nap still go to their rooms and relax on their own while the younger two snooze.
- Let them have fun together. Laughing, singing, dancing, rough-housing, etc will raise their oxytocin levels. We don’t let our kids be rough inside (because breakables), but if they’re wanting to wrestle and be silly together, we have them go to the back yard and enjoy.
An important lesson 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? Anger, frustration, misunderstanding, impatience, selfishness? Pray and humbly ask God for His intervention. All of these attitudes and actions are first and foremost sin. The only cure for that is to first be born again and second to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Pray for the salvation of your children, for them to truly know the God of scripture and acknowledge Him as Lord of all. Pray that the Holy Spirit would change their hearts and yours.
Ask God to strengthen everyone’s desire for His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (fruit of His Spirit). Ask Him to help each person with understanding and the daily choice of love and respect for others.
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 conforms us to His image and makes us better models for our kids. He gives us the patience to walk through the hard stuff with mercy and grace.
When Conflict Strikes
When conflict does arise, be prepared to be patient. Especially in the beginning. This is a long game. Think: discipleship.
So what steps do we go through when our children start to fight?
4 Steps to Sibling Conflict Resolution
1) Calm down
This is for both you and the children.
Mom 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. Again, this is a teaching moment for little watching eyes. Conflict is normal, and how we model self-control matters because it’s going to shape how they see conflict and manage it in the future.
Now address the kids.
They may need some space to cool down from the heat of debate. Especially if feelings have been hurt. If everyone is yelling over top of each other and the tears are rolling, use a firm voice to cut through the noise. You want to stop the damage before it goes further. Make sure this isn’t a barking harsh word. Just something to break them out of battle.
Once they have eyes on you, ask if they need a break on their own or if they’re able to calmly talk about what happened.
2) Understand each other
This is another step for both us and our kids.
While they’re calming down, pray for understanding for both you and them. In fact, it’s better if you do it out loud. Show your children how important the grace of God is and that we should run to Him when sin arises. During the next step, be listening for things you can relate to and thinking of ways to explain their position to the other person if they’re having trouble.
When they’re ready, ask them to think about the other person’s point of view in the argument and then explain it. It’s important not to jump to conclusions and go into “berating” mode. We need to judge with right judgment (John 7:24). And also keep in mind that our goal is to help them do this on their own eventually, meaning we don’t want to automatically intervene but instead want to listen and spur them on in the right direction.
In this step, we’re also giving them valuable skills for the future. There may be fewer strawman arguments out there today if more people were taught to truly understand the other person’s point of view.
Once each of them has given their explanation, have them give one another feedback. Were they spot on? Or were they interpreting the other child’s feelings, motives, or views incorrectly?
3) Solve the conflict
- In this situation, what could you have done differently to disagree without a fight?
- Did your actions hurt someone else? How?
- How should you 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 focusing on what others did wrong. This is important because even when we are wronged by another person, we’re still 100% responsible for how we respond.
Note: 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 take responsibility for what they’ve personally done wrong and recognize what they could have done better. And they won’t do that if they have their defenses up.
Woohoo! They did it, and you’re one step closer to having children who know how to communicate in a mature way. 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.
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 discipleship, creating strong family relationships, being prayerful, and implementing a plan that teaches kids to examine their own hearts and what they could do better.
What other ways have you found that work for handling sibling fighting? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,