How to Resolve Sibling Rivalry Part 3: Dealing With Fighting Kids

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

Remember, as parents we intervene in sibling fights not to be the judge but to open channels of communication that have been blocked. Dealing with fighting kids isn’t easy, but it presents an opportunity to help your children grow and learn.

Is It a Play Fight?

Always ask, “Is this a play fight or a real fight?” and make sure both of your children consider it a play fight before you allow it to continue.

Talk About the Issue

Encourage your children to express their anger verbally, “Use words, not fists.” 

Acknowledge Bad Feelings

Acknowledging bad feelings between children leads to good feelings because your children can get disagreements out into the open and resolve them. 

Meet Their Emotional Needs

Children fight when their emotional needs are not being fulfilled, and they let their frustrations out on each other. You can prevent many fights by always being careful to fulfill your children’s needs ahead of time.

Dealing with fighting Kids - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

If conflict stubbornly persists and you find yourself still dealing with fighting kids, call a meeting to discuss the issue.

Let your children express their feelings, needs, and desires and write down how they feel. Then, have them brainstorm solutions and write down all of their ideas without rejecting any. Reading the list of feelings and ideas back to your children gives them a feeling of importance and validates their point of view. Try to implement their solutions, instead of your own, as children are much more likely to carry out a plan they had a hand in making.

Don’t Leave It to Chance

Never toss a coin to resolve disputes when dealing with fighting kids. It trivializes their needs by making them dependent on blind chance. Rather, encourage your children to come up with their own solution. Similarly, you should never put things to a vote. Again, this demoralizes and invalidates the feelings of the losing vote. Instead, work together to come to a consensus.

Offer Hope

When a child can’t get what he or she wants you can give it to him or her in a fantasy. “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a big brother who would let you play with his toys all the time!” Doing so gives recognition and validation to the child’s desires, which gives him a feeling of importance. This is often enough to satisfy him even though he can’t get what he wants. See more on the topic of giving a child his wishes in a fantasy by clicking here.

Who Needs Attention?

When two children are competing for attention you have to be wise and figure out who needs it most at that moment. Who has not been getting enough attention lately? Usually there is one who needs it more and he or she should be dealt with first.

Dealing with fighting Kids - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

Stay Out of Minor Disagreements

Try and stay out of minor sibling squabbles and avoid being the judge. You want to resolve conflict, but it is usually impossible to truly judge who is right because you, the parent, didn’t see the whole chain of events and don’t have all the facts. Thus, if you step in as the judge, it will be perceived as unfair and will cause more conflict than it resolves. Therefore, encourage your children to work out their conflicts on their own. If they are struggling to work together, try helping your children communicate their needs and desires to each other. Ask them how they feel and then restate it to the other party. “Your sister wants to play with the toy for 10 more minutes.” “Your brother feels he’s been waiting too long to play with it and he wants it now.” This will help them understand how the other is feeling and work out a compromise on their own. 

In the case of a major conflict we may need to intervene, but we should always be very careful about judging! If you see one child punching the other very aggressively it’s tempting to punish the aggressor. But, many times the fight began before you arrived, and your child may be responding to being hit even harder, but you didn’t see it. Therefore, step in and block their blows so the fight doesn’t escalate, and encourage your children to discuss their grievances in an open communication forum.

Judge only when you know absolutely beyond any reasonable doubt what happened, and, even then, only make a suggestion and leave the final decision up to them.

Dealing with fighting Kids - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

Don’t force your kids to share when they really don’t want to, it just makes them more desperate, resentful and selfish. Instead, say, “She will share when she’s ready.”

I know that dealing with fighting kids is not easy, so have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas little by little.

To see How to resolve sibling rivalry, part 1, click here.

To see How to resolve sibling rivalry, part 2, click here.

You may find other parenting tips, tricks and information in the rest of my interesting blog. Feel free to download one of my informative free reports or learn more about how I can help you and your child by visiting the specialties on my website.

If you are struggling with dealing with fighting kids, and you would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,

you may give me a call for a free 15-minute consultation at 646-681-1707. I look forward to speaking with you!

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