Children Fighting: What’s Going on?
Call it what you will – fighting – arguing, squabbling, bickering, sibling rivalry. It’s exasperating, distressing and mentally exhausting. It’s true that some fighting between siblings, such as quarrelling or competing for your attention, is normal. Sibling conflict is sometimes even necessary for social and emotional development; it teaches them how to deal with and resolve conflict.
Let’s be honest. Parenthood, while very rewarding, can be a minefield of frustration and confusion. You often feel like you don’t know what’s going on with your kids, they fight with their siblings, get angry at you a lot and their communication (especially as they get older) leaves a lot to be desired.
If your kids fight all the time, it can start to become very stressful, cause anxiety and even disrupt the family dynamic. It’s really draining to referee your children’s fights all day long so it’s important to train them how to deal effectively with conflict and find solutions to disagreements, and while it’s never too late, the earlier you can do this the better.
Why Siblings Fight
There are four main reasons that children fight:
In the eyes of a child, nothing is more fun, when bored, than annoying their sibling and watching the reaction.
2. Parental attention
Sometimes your child feels left out or a little unloved. Their fighting is another way of saying “Notice me!” In the eyes of a child, any attention, positive or negative, will do.
Your child feels angry at their sibling and frustrated, persecuted or the victim of injustice.
4. Built-up resentment
Sometimes when we try to solve our children’s problems or punish them for fighting, they harbour resentment and act on this by picking on their siblings and annoying them.
How to Deal with Sibling Fights
The way you handle your children’s fights can help them learn to resolve future problems. For best results, it is best to wait until all tempers have cooled.
1. Tell your children what you are going to do until the fighting stops – the consequences.
2. Ask both children to define the problem – why they think they keep fighting.
3. Ask both children to express what they want to happen.
4. Brainstorm solutions together.
5. Discuss the solutions and decide which ones will work.
6. Try the agreed solution, see how it goes and start again if there is no improvement.
It is stressful when your kids fight, but it is important to stay calm. How you deal with the arguing can determine how your children treat one another. If you solve the problem in a respectful way, they will eventually learn to take this approach.
And, as crazy as it seems, celebrate your children’s fights. Conflict resolution is a life skill – who better to learn it with than your siblings.
How to cope with your child’s anger
Anger is a natural human emotion; we all feel it sometimes. Allow your child to feel angry, as suppressing it could lead them to be an emotionally unhealthy adult who bottles up their emotions. While anger is OK, handling it inappropriately is not and your child needs to know this. Help your child handle their anger by finding out their particular life stressors – time of day, after particular events or around certain people. Help your child to express why these things make them angry and come up with possible solutions together.
When your child gets angry:
• Keep yourself calm
• Listen to your child and acknowledge their feelings
• Try to see their point of view
• Don’t take rudeness personally
• Keep everyone safe
• If your child is in meltdown, reassure them they are safe
• Remember tantrums are a way to let off steam
• Remember anger is a reaction to a perceived threat
• Allow your child to safely move past anger
• Stay close
• Talk after they have calmed down
“The truth about rage is that it only dissolves when it is really heard and understood, without reservation.” – Carl Rogers
Communicating with Teens
Talking to your teenager can be hard but getting them to talk to you can be even harder.
• Teens often think their parents don’t listen. Your teenager may want to have a conversation, but they won’t if they think you’re not listening to the full story or rushing to try to fix the problem, offer advice, or lecture – just listen.
• Teens often think their parents will freak out. You may think you’re being easy going but they know you will be disappointed if they have behaved badly, or worried if they put themselves in jeopardy – try to listen without reacting.
• Teens often don’t understand their emotions or issues themselves. The teenage years are hard physically and emotionally. You’re stuck in a void between childhood and adulthood and everything is changing – cut them some slack and try to help them understand themselves.
• Teens fear judgment and confrontation. Try to start conversations in a neutral place and in a way that minimises threat – side by side in the car is often a good place.
Parenthood is a constant challenge. If your efforts to help your child seem ineffective, a Wellbeing Therapy Space psychologist can help. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 1300 208 680 and organise an appointment.
Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash
Article by Claire Mansveld of Hey Zeus Creative