Siblings Fighting Takes a Toll on You. Here’s How to Cope.

Written by Lee Orlian
Interior designer & co-founder of Teepee Joy.

Bringing home a second baby is a time of joy, confusion, resettling, and establishing new routines.

What you don’t realize at first is that it’s also the beginning of a (seemingly) lifelong blood feud between your children. Oh, but you realize it soon enough. Siblings fighting becomes a daily occurrence, and it’s all you can do to keep up with the unforgivable slight du jour.

Parents: if you came here because your kids are forever finding new and inventive ways to tear each other apart, just know that you’re not alone. Tune into any conversation between parents at a playground, and I can bet you’ll hear one of them begin fretting over the fact that their kids seem to hate each other.

That feeling can be really rough. After all, these are your favorite people in the world. To you, the differences in their personalities, and individual interests are what make them so special and amazing. To the sibling that has to stare at them across the diner table, those same differences may be driving them up a wall. You want your favorite people to also be each other’s favorite people, and they’re just not.

Here’s where you need to be as honest as possible:

Given the choice, who would you rather have over for a glass of wine on the back porch: your best friend, or your sibling? If you decided on your best friend, that’s not going to surprise anyone. You get to choose your friends, whereas family is something that happens to you.

As far as you, or any other kid was concerned, your sibling just showed up one day out of nowhere. They can be great sometimes, and a complete pain other times. Your kids are merely feeling the same way.

Are there siblings out there who consider themselves to be best friends? Absolutely – but they’re in the minority. And anyway, we don’t need our children to be each other’s best friends; we just need them to be friendly.

So… Here are some strategies I’ve used at home. I don’t always remember to use them, and you won’t either. But if you ask me how I keep siblings from fighting, this is what has worked in the past. 

Address Boredom

Sometimes, kids may begin battling each other simply because it offers them something to do. Busy parents often struggle with keeping children fully engaged – and make no mistake, that is a full-time job.

So, maybe the kids have been inside all afternoon because it’s winter, and it’s basically nighttime by 4:30 – or maybe one of the kids is getting over a cold, so you are taking it easy as a family – or maybe a much-anticipated play date was unexpectedly canceled. However it happened, the kids got bored enough to the point where screaming at one another began to seem massively entertaining.

The good news is that bored kids are just as eager to take up structured activities, as they are to take up fighting one another.

Puzzles and games are good to go-to distractions, as are arts and crafts projects. Of course, if you are busy with something in the kitchen, in the garage, or in the backyard, come up with ways that the children can safely help you. They need jobs to do and goals to accomplish.

As an added bonus, you can keep the kids separate from one another without telling them that’s what you’re doing. So you just so happen to need one child’s help in the living room, while the other child helps in the dining room – now they are out of each other’s faces, and focusing on more constructive activities. Everyone wins!

Acknowledge Their Feelings

You may have realized by now that despite your best intentions and your best efforts, it can be very difficult to relate to the wildly swinging emotions of a child, or to understand why you have siblings fighting all the time.

So many experiences that we take for granted are brand-new to children, and they need time to process the sights and sounds and feelings that come along with them. A kid who is feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated is more likely to lash out at the people around them.

Of course, if both of your children are feeling overwhelmed by particular experience (say, having to share a new toy that they both really want), the situation is perfectly set up for a battle royale.

The root of the problem may not be that your children are irritated with each other; it may instead be that they need some help working through their feelings.

So many times we as parents are likely to dismiss a child’s feelings. “Don’t be scared, there is nothing in your closet,” “you have nothing to be angry about,” “you can’t get annoyed at your sister. It’s her turn to play with that toy.”

Without meaning to, what we are saying to our children in those moments is “whatever you are feeling is wrong.” Logically, we understand that that isn’t true, but in the middle of an argument, it can be difficult to stop and remember that.

Sometimes, all it takes to diffuse a child is getting down on their level and letting them know that you understand how they feel. You can also admit to occasionally having the same feelings that they have. Telling a child that not only is it okay to be sad, but that you yourself sometimes feel sad can help them to process their emotions productively.

Kids who feel understood are not as likely to lash out. They may even begin coming to you for help, rather than immediately starting a fight.

“Catch” Them Being Good

We parents certainly are good at pointing out all of the things we don’t want our children to do; but are we any good at telling them what we do want them to do?

Bad behavior tends to be louder, more visceral, and a lot more likely to grab your attention no matter what it is you’re doing. Good behavior on the other hand, usually isn’t a big flashy display.

In other words, it almost feels as though you have to “catch” your child being good. It’s not always easy, but when ever you do witness them displaying kindness, courtesy, affection or cooperation with their siblings, you should praise them right away.

It may seem that in your household, siblings are fighting all the time, but stop and consider if that may just be a means of getting your attention. If kids get the attention they crave for doing only bad things, there is no real reason for them to stop. However, when they begin getting attention for good things, they’ll start incorporating more of them into their everyday routines.

Help Your Children Feel Included and Special

It doesn’t take much for kids to notice that their parents are very busy. As much as we would all like to slow down, and take time out just to focus on our families, it can be very difficult to do depending on your situation at home.

Still, a lot of sibling rivalry seems to well up when one child feels that another child is getting more attention from you. Now, whether or not this is true could potentially up for debate for the rest of your life.

The point is this:

Some children simply need you more than other children. You may think that you are doing right by both children by splitting your time between them equally, but a needy child is just that – they need more of you than their sibling does.

A needy child who continually feels like they are being left out, can begin to view any interaction with their siblings as “unfair.” This can trigger fights over and over again.

Only you can assess this – but if you truly feel that one of your children simply needs you more frequently and more urgently than another child, it is okay to take your time out of perfect balance.

This is an idea that we rebel against as parents; we want everything to be absolutely equal among our children. However, don’t think of it in terms of equality. Instead, just do your best to make sure you are meeting the unique needs of each child.

Address the Root of the Problem

Kids can go through phases with their fighting, but if you notice that the frequency and intensity of the fight suddenly skips up, there may be something else at work here.

Children get stressed out just like we do. If there is something big looming on the horizon, it could very well be making a child irritable, and giving them a shorter fuse than they would normally have. Is the first day of school coming up? Are you moving to a new home soon? Is child concerned about whether or not she will be invited to a birthday party? Any of these circumstances could profoundly affect your child’s mood.

Other things that may be souring your otherwise happy child could be sleep deprivation, a growth spurt, or even an oncoming illness. If you suspect that the root of the problem may be physical, don’t be afraid to give your doctor a call for some advice.

Beware the (Unknowing) Tendency to Favor One Child

Parents get defensive when this topic is brought up. I know I do.

As a mother, I understand that while my daughters have different personalities, and all sorts of wonderful traits that make them unique, it does not mean that I love one more than the other.

So let me put a pin in that idea right now:

A tendency to favor one child does not mean that you love one child more than another! Favoring shows itself in much more subtle ways – sometimes so subtle that we don’t even notice them.

Chances are, one of your children is willing to go longer, louder, and lower in an argument than the others. This might mean that when this child starts an argument with you, you are much quicker to dismiss it, or shut it down before that child has the chance to tell you what’s bothering them.

On the other side of things, you may have a child who is very quick to apologize and/or cry when they are reprimanded for doing something wrong. This might lead you to be more lenient on that child… because, let’s face it, they’re just making your life easier by owning up to their mistakes right away.

You are only human, your kids are only human, and when the group of you are together in a room, and somebody broke a vase, you are going to have to sort it out in your imperfect, human ways. Even though both children might be equally responsible for breaking that family heirloom, anyone might be tempted to dish out a lesser punishment to the child that immediately fesses up. Is that fair? Well… it’s complicated.

Kids will notice, and they can begin resenting a sibling that they think has it easier.

The best you can do is be mindful of this, and try to avoid giving one child a harder (or easier) time than their siblings when they do something equally bad.

Now What?

Do your kids fight all the time? What strategies have you put into use? Share this blog post on social media, especially if you know someone going through a tough time with their own little ones.