How to positively deal with sibling fights

All siblings fight, conflict is a normal part of any relationship. Conflict allows children to learn and grow, test their boundaries and to learn cause and effect.

All siblings fight, conflict is a normal part of any relationship. Conflict allows children to learn and grow, test their boundaries and to learn cause and effect. But, it’s not easy for parents. Especially if your little ones fight a lot. You may feel very unsure of what to do.
Ironically, sometimes it works to stand back from a sibling fight for a while because this gives children the chance to sort it out for themselves. But it’s important to know when to step in to break up a sibling fight.
When a disagreement gets physical or involves shouting or name-calling, you need to break it up before someone gets hurt.

But believe it or not, kids' fighting isn't all bad, as long as it's not physical fights or bullying. Arguments help kids learn to compromise, conflict resolution and self-control. It's just that learning that stuff takes a really long time.

Breaking up sibling fights
  • Stop the fight before the crying starts. This might require physically separating your children, or sending them to opposite sides of the room to settle down.
  • Keep your cool. This might sound impossible, but the idea is not to make things worse. Try to save your energy for giving positive feedback on behaviour that you want to encourage. Focusing on the positive and not focusing on the bad behaviour shows our children which kind of behaviour gets our attention.
  • Tell children you will talk about it later. Children are often too upset to take in what you’re saying at first. Wait until things settle down before you talk about the issue. This could even be the next day with older children.
Handling sibling fights constructively
These tips can make it easier to cool things down when sibling fights break out:
  • Treat all children fairly
  • But remember that fair treatment isn’t necessarily the same treatment. For example, it might not be possible to treat a nine-year-old and a two-year-old the same.
Avoid negative comparisons
Saying something like, ‘You should have known better because you’re older than her’ or ‘You’re always the one starting fights” can make a child feel even more hurt or resentful.

Identify the cause of fighting
  • This helps you work out the best thing to do. For example, if a child has taken a toy from a sibling, you need to step in. If you don’t, the child learns that fighting is a way to get what you want. Keeping an eye on your children is the secret to knowing the reason for the fighting – and deciding on the right way to deal it.
  • Model the Behaviour You Want to See 
  • Don't just talk about how to resolve conflicts; show children. Fighting or shouting as a solution to a disagreement is reinforced when kids see parents do the same. Don't fight with your spouse (or relatives or friends) in front of the kids. And though it can be tough to be heard above the sound of fighting kids, try not to raise your voice when kids are fighting.
Problem-solving after a sibling fight
What you do after a fight can help children learn how to solve their own problems in the future. For best results, wait until tempers have cooled and children are ready to reason again.
  • Let children know what you plan to do. For example, ‘I’ve decided that neither of you should use the tablet until we can find a way to stop the fighting. Do you understand? Are you willing to work on solving the problem now?’
  • Ask both children to say what they think the problem is
  • Encourage them to try to see it from the other person’s point of view as well as their own. You could tell them that two people might still disagree even when they both have valid points of view.
Brainstorm together

Let the children think of ideas on how to solve the problem, and encourage them. Throw in some ideas of your own, and write them all down.

Come back to it
If you can’t come up with a solution at first, come back to it later. You can ask the children to go away and work out some ideas together. Or you might look for ideas in parenting books or websites.

Try the solution
Once you’ve all agreed on an approach, try the solution and see how it goes. Start again if things don’t improve.

Handling your own emotions
It’s normal if you feel anxious or stressed when fights break out. It’s also normal if some issues bother you more than others, and some days you get upset more quickly.
But staying calm can really help. If it’s safe and you don’t need to step in immediately, it can help to stop, count to 10, and then act.
That extra 10 seconds is often enough to calm your emotions. If this doesn’t help, you might want to ask another adult to handle things while you take some time out.

Remember, If children have a fight while you are driving ALWAYS pull the car over, trying to sort it out or turning around to talk will take your attention off the road which of course is extremely dangerous.

Laura Doyle, mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired in the chaos of it all. Writer and blogger at

Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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