A Parent’s Guide to Handling Sibling Fights

Children fight frequently when they face disagreements, especially at a younger age when they tend to be more aggressive. This is normal as children are not born with the skills to sort out disagreements and later learn these skills from others.

Fights could start in situations where they see it from their perspective as unfair. Parents and early learning educators should use fights as an opportunity to teach children appropriate skills to solve a problem or deal with new situations.

Remember, it is extremely important to stay calm if your children are fighting with each other, as they will tend to imitate your reaction.

There are crucial rules to follow when handling fights between siblings or any children. As a leading childcare service provider in NSW, we have created a how-to on breaking up sibling fights:

  1. Step in at the right time

    Do not step in at the start of a disagreement. Give the child the chance to develop their problem-solving skills and see if they can handle it. If you believe it’s going to get physical, this is the time to step in before anyone gets hurt. As little ones are still developing their reactions, an argument can become a physical fight quickly, with low chances of resolution without adult intervention.

    Try and manage the situation before any crying starts, even if this requires putting the children in different spots within a room or separate rooms.

  1. Remember to stay calm

    We know it’s hard, but the calmer you are, the better things will be. It can help to pause, count to 10, and then act – these 10 seconds can be enough to calm you down. Save your energy to encourage how positive the situation has become once the fight is over. If the fight is bad and you cannot stay calm, you might want to ask another adult to step in.

    • Do not talk about the fight immediately but inform them that a conversation will be held later. Children are not prepared by nature to face the issue and get feedback immediately. The calmer everyone gets, the better the conversation will be.
    • If you follow the ‘consequences’ behaviour, then ensure you apply the rules to everyone involved. If the fight was over which movie to watch, then neither of their choices should be considered after a fight.

How to Ensure Fights are Handled Constructively

These tips can make it easier to cool things down when sibling fights break out:

  1. Be Fair – Not Equal

    Treat everyone fairly, not equally. Remember that being fair does not always mean treating everyone in the same way. It is dependent on your child’s age and other contributing factors since not all children are the same. You should not be expected to treat your toddler the same way you treat your kindergartener.

  1. Find the cause

    Do not hurt your child’s feelings by saying ‘you are always the one to start a fight’ but work on identifying the original reason for the fight and reinforce a different behaviour. If you see your children fighting over a toy and things get physical, you need to step in and explain that this is not the way to get what they want otherwise, this will become normal behaviour.

    Make sure you always keep an eye on your children and if you send them to local childcare or preschool always ask about how they behave to ensure you are always across their behaviours.

  1. Follow the rules

    Use consistent family rules so that your little ones can expect the consequences of a fight and learn what this will mean to their day. If you see a fight starting, remind them of the rules (for example, that could be no screen time for the day if they do not resolve the situation).

  1. The plan

    Always have a plan to manage fights, small or big. When the fight is over and tempers have cooled down, tell the children what you have planned for them.

    Asking them the following questions might help if they are over 2 or 3 years old:

    • Do you understand that this fight means nobody will get the toy you have been fighting over?
    • What do you think caused this problem? Remind them to listen to each other’s point of view.
    • How would you like to resolve this situation? What do you think is the fair resolution for both of you?

If you feel like your child is extremely aggressive, you might need to ask for help as you do not want this behaviour to cause bigger issues in the future. It might be good to talk to your childcare educators to assess their behaviour outside the home and speak with a professional if needed as these fights could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.