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Battling sibling rivalry – let them work it out

Q: My children fight all the time; they are in a constant battle. I have a 4-year-old, 6-year-old and a middle school student. The 6-year-old often teases the middle school student. I think he should be able to deal with it, but instead he fights back. How can I get this to stop?

A: Sibling rivalry may be one of the most frustrating parts of being a parent. It creates stress and can make home unpleasant. Children fight over just about anything and for any number of reasons including jealousy, power, bruised egos and favor in their parent’s eyes.

  • Remember, most siblings argue. Here are some suggestions:
  • Don’t believe that an older child should “know better.” Assuming that a seventh-grader should refrain from fighting back after the 6-year-old taunts him is unrealistic. Early adolescent children are dealing with feelings of being accepted, identity and the pressure of social expectations. Your older child is much more like the 6-year-old than an adult. He may know better on an intellectual level, but when taunted by the younger child, his emotions kick in. The 6-year-old is quick to learn an older sibling’s weak spot.
  • Don’t listen to tattling. Responding to this will put you in the middle of the battle.
  • Don’t try to get in the middle and referee. You will never win. There is a lot leading up to an argument that as parents we are not aware of. Let them figure it out. 
  • Set a few simple rules. No physical fighting, no name calling. Whoever breaks the rules, no matter the reason, will have a punishment.
  • If your children are arguing in front of you, which is usually the case, have them move to another room where you can’t hear it. Without an audience the children will not fight nearly as long or hard.
  • Invite cooperation. Hanging out and doing things together creates fun. In turn, this teaches siblings to enjoy one another. This will not stop the arguing, but it can help.
  • Remember that through their conflict they are learning about how to live with one another. They are learning how to communicate and problem solve, albeit a slow process. 
  • Finally, remember back to your childhood and fights with brothers and sisters. It will help balance what you are seeing in your own home.