It is normal and natural for there to be rivalry among siblings, whatever their age and it is important to remember that disputes shouldn’t always be regarded as a negative thing. While your children are fighting they are learning the art of negotiation and conflict resolution, which are such important skills for later life. However, when siblings spend long periods of time together it is easy for the fighting to get out of hand. As the summer holidays approach, we asked ESMS School counsellor, Melanie Allan, to offer some suggestions for parents to help keep fighting manageable.
Why do children fight?
There are a few common reasons why children tend to fight. They perceive an injustice, they want attention (positive or negative), they are bored or they have different temperaments and needs. It is particularly common for fighting to escalate if the maturity gap between your siblings suddenly widens.
Taking pre-emptive action
Before the start of the long holiday, it is a good idea to think about the triggers that are most likely to lead to fighting in your own family and put some plans in place to address these. Here are some suggestions:
- Praise good behaviour: When children are behaving well we often ignore them and focus on getting things done but actually this is the time to give them some attention and praise. It is also a good idea to think about how you are rewarding responsible behaviour. For example, if you are expecting your eldest to take on more responsibility over the holiday, think about how they could be rewarded
- Tackling aggression: If you have found that sibling fighting has become more aggressive during the pandemic you may want to sit down with your children at the start of the holiday and set out some family rules, explaining that aggressive and violent behaviour won’t be tolerated in your family. This is particularly important for younger children because aggressive behaviour will only escalate as children get older
- Tackle boredom: Boredom is one of the main triggers for fighting. Therefore if you know you are going to be busy, try to talk to your children in advance. If they are younger, let them know the plan for the next day to help manage their expectations. If they are older, get them to come up with their own ideas so they are more enthusiastic
- Individual attention: Spending one-on-one time with individual children is one of the best ways to reduce rivalry, so try scheduling time with Mum or Dad, whether it is a trip to the supermarket, doing some cooking or just sitting down to watch a movie together. It doesn’t need to be the same thing, it just needs to be equal
- Nip resentments in the bud: It is natural to stereotype and compare your children but try to avoid verbalising these thoughts. Thinking of your children as individuals is important and remembering that children go through different phases throughout their development. If you can avoid giving them labels like the “naughty one” or “the quiet one”, it will be easier for them to move beyond these roles. This can also help to reduce resentment building between siblings.
Tackling fights when they occur
- Helping children to problem solve: Try and encourage your children to solve their own problems. This will help them to develop their conflict resolution and negotiation skills. The resolutions that children devise by themselves are generally better than the ones that are imposed by adults
- Try and avoid the role of judge and jury: It is difficult to hear and watch our children fighting but unless the dispute has become aggressive, or someone is at risk, it is a good idea to avoid getting involved. When you are asked to play the role of judge it is inherently problematic because you are rarely in possession of the full facts
- Focus on feelings: Try talking to your children individually, asking them to concentrate on their feelings rather than what has been done to them. This is more likely to help them identify the emotions behind the fight and reach a resolution. It will also help your child to feel heard. Injustice is one of the things young people struggle with the most. If you have listened and heard, they are more likely to engage in a conversation about their own behaviour and how that contributed to the conflict in the first place.
We hope this insight and tips might be useful when defusing any tensions in your household this summer!