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How do I get my kids to stop fighting with each other?

It can be so upsetting for parents if your kiddos aren't getting along. Here are one parent's tips for how to get siblings to stop fighting.

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Dear Is This Normal,

I have two kids who are two years apart in age. When they were in the baby/toddler/little kid stages, they got along perfectly fine (aside from the occasional spat over a toy or the attention of myself or their dad). But now that they’re older (7 and 9), they seem to be at each other’s throats all the time! Just constant bickering, arguing, sometimes even physical altercations. We are at the end of our rope trying to get them to get along, and I’m concerned that they fight way too much. Is this fighting between siblings normal? How can we help them get along?

Signed, 

Tired of Being the Referee

Dear Referee,

Ahhhhhhhh, I have been waiting for a sibling question as it pertains to older kiddos! This is my sweet spot, I love sibling dynamics. I know you probably aren’t as jazzed, since you’re living in a cage match at the moment, but believe me when I say this is so completely normal and developmentally and age-appropriate (given the ages of your kids). You are 100% not alone in wondering if your kids will actually ever love each other or be mortal enemies for life. Spoiler alert: they love the crap out of each other now, even if their behavior indicates otherwise. 

Quick storytime: I have two siblings, one older and one younger. I love them with the same ferocity as I love my own kids and they’re my absolute best friends in the entire world. THAT BEING SAID, I can recall no fewer than five separate occasions in our childhood where we came perilously close to actually maiming one another. I might have tried to sell my brother to our neighbors once. It’s fine, we couldn’t settle on a price and we kept him, but you get the idea. 

My own kids, 10 and 6, are either joined at the hip or avoiding each other like the plague depending on the day and the moon’s position in the sky…or something. What I’m saying is sibling conflicts, whether due to sibling rivalry or related to birth order, different temperaments, or different developmental stages, are sort of par for the course when you’ve got two or more kids and not at all indicative of how they’ll relate to one another as they grow and mature.

But I get your frustrations and concerns, and I sympathize so much. When your kids fight, it creates stress and discontent that can affect the whole family. And it’s exhausting to be the middle person/referee all the time!

Your kids are old enough to understand that people are to be treated with respect, so that should be rule number one. Any conflict, no matter what it’s about, needs to be handled respectively—no physical aggression, no name-calling, no invalidating each other’s feelings. Encourage communication rather than a screaming match; each child should get a chance to state their case without interruption, and then you can work with them on coming up with a solution. You have to remain a neutral third-party here, be open-minded to what both kids are expressing, and you should try to refrain from taking sides unless there’s an obvious aggressor. For the most part, you and your partner should be neutral in all aspects unless the conflict escalates to the point where boundaries have been crossed and you need to shut it down. And always give your kids an out if they need to take a minute or two to breathe or calm down; don’t force them to resolve the conflict in that exact moment if doing so will only make things worse. Sometimes separation and reflection are the best course of action before coming together again to talk things out calmly and rationally. 

Your kiddos love each other, Ref. And as they get older and develop the interpersonal skills necessary to have dynamic relationships with other people, you’re going to see some pretty awesome bonds start to form. That brother I tried to sell? A few years later, I got into some, uh, trouble at school because some kid thought they could pick on him and I had to let them know that wasn’t going to fly. There’s nothing like the bond between siblings—it just takes some time and maturity to get there. 

Don’t Blow the Whistle Just Yet,

Is This Normal

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