Mommy Moments Monday: Why do siblings fight?

My kids are driving me insane with the fighting and picking on each other and guess what the 20 year old and the 5 year old fight the worse. So let's start with why they fight then move on to what we as parents can do.

Why Kids Fight

Many different things can cause siblings to fight. Most brothers and sisters experience some degree of jealousy or competition, and this can flare into squabbles and bickering. But other factors also might influence how often kids fight and how severe the fighting gets. These include:

  • Evolving needs.It's natural for kids' changing needs, anxieties, and identities to affect how they relate to one another. For example, toddlers are naturally protective of their toys and belongings, and are learning to assert their will, which they'll do at every turn. So if a baby brother or sister picks up the toddler's toy, the older child may react aggressively. School-age kids often have a strong concept of fairness and equality, so might not understand why siblings of other ages are treated differently or feel like one child gets preferential treatment. Teenagers, on the other hand, are developing a sense of individuality and independence, and might resent helping with household responsibilities, taking care of younger siblings, or even having to spend time together. All of these differences can influence the way kids fight with one another.
  • Individual temperaments.Your kids' individual temperaments — including mood, disposition, and adaptability — and their unique personalities play a large role in how well they get along. For example, if one child is laid back and another is easily rattled, they may often get into it. Similarly, a child who is especially clingy and drawn to parents for comfort and love might be resented by siblings who see this and want the same amount of attention.
  • Special needs/sick kids.Sometimes, a child's special needs due to illness or learning/emotional issues may require more parental time. Other kids may pick up on this disparity and act out to get attention or out of fear of what's happening to the other child.
  • Role models.The way that parents resolve problems and disagreements sets a strong example for kids. So if you and your spouse work through conflicts in a way that's respectful, productive, and not aggressive, you increase the chances that your children will adopt those tactics when they run into problems with one another. If your kids see you routinely shout, slam doors, and loudly argue when you have problems, they're likely to pick up those bad habits themselves.

Teach Kids Ways to Discuss Solutions and Problem Solve

Even very young children can understand the basic issues of fairness and no fighting. Talk to kids about fighting and other ways that a problem can be resolved. Always set the ground rules of what can be done and what can't to resolve an issue. For example, yelling, crying, or hitting or definite problem-solving no-nos. Ask them to come up with ideas, and then let try them out. You might be surprised at their solutions, and they may know what works best.

Praise Kids and Provide Positive Reinforcement

Praise and positive reinforcement works wonders in helping to build positive child behaviors. The key point is to ignore fighting and then to lavish attention when they're caught doing something kind, positive or helpful. Children will quickly get the hint that good behaviors get them more attention than negative ones.

Be a Positive Role Model

You can't expect kids to not fight and bicker when they observe it regularly among adults. Parents must serve as role models as to how to cooperate and get along with others. Set the example of expected behavior at all times. Remember, your kids are watching!

Be Calm Under Pressure

Kids watch how adults behave and act when they are mad, disagree with something or are offended. Being calm under pressure and exhibiting self-control sets a positive example. Adults should talk with kids about situations in which they have felt angry or mad and what steps they took to calm down.

Pay Attention to How You React and Intervene

If adults yell, embarrass, shame, or dole out angry or strong words, the result actually could be that the annoying child behavior of kid fights occurs again. Punishments like the ones above may escalate a child's angry feelings and cause them to act out more.

Don't Pay Attention 

Most kid fights are not meaningful and end quickly on their own. Adult intervention delays the process of children working it out themselves. Fighting is often a way for kids to get attention – and for some kids, negative attention is better than no attention at all. If adults ignore the fighting and don't let it become a "center stage" in the home or location, it becomes less of a reason to do it. One idea is to declare a separate room or space in your home as "the fighting room." Whenever kids or friends of your children fight, simply tell them to take it to the "fight room" and do not come out until it is worked out.

Treat Everyone Equal

The quickest trap an adult can get into is trying to investigate who started the fight, and who said what and then what caused the escalating issue. Taking sides or doling out punishment differently sets the stage for labeling victims and bullies. In most cases, the punishment should be the same: no exceptions. Again, the goal is to take the challenge out of fighting and strip any initiative for "winning" or "losing" a fight.

Minimize Occasions for Fighting

Consider all the reasons kids fight and do what you can to eliminate those situations. Know when youngsters are at their worst, such as when they're tired or hungry or just had a bad day, and minimize any potential fight zones. Children need to know they are loved equally and are special, regardless of how they act, but that you as an adult feel most happy when they are at their best. Sometimes a hug is all a kid needs.

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