What you need to know about sibling fights – and how to handle them!

If you’re anything like me, you may soon be reaching the point of the holidays where your children are fighting like cats and dogs and the sound of squealing and whining almost has you running for cover.

First point: you’re not alone!

Why? Because ALL siblings fight. Yes, we all know it but sometimes we forget just how normal this behaviour really is.  I know I sometimes have visions of my empathic, angelic children sharing, offering to help each other and working collaboratively……..but the cry of “Mum, he hit me!” snaps me back to reality pretty fast!

kids on beach

All children fight because all people in loving relationships fight. Arguments, disagreements, differences of opinion are a simple fact of being in a family.  Of course, for children this is amplified due to the fact that they are still learning how to negotiate these conflicts.  Not only that, they are still in a more egocentric phase of life than we adults are.  In other words, they find it hard to see past their own desires and to be as empathic and flexible as we can.

So in summary, expect fights. They will happen!

The question is how to handle them when they occur.

Many of us have learned the hard way that playing referee rarely works. Or it doesn’t work for long. What it does achieve, however, is draining our emotional reserves and making us frustrated also!

Here are a few tips to help you manage the remainder of the holiday period:

  1. Notice and praise caring, loving behaviour when it occurs. And BE SPECIFIC – eg. “I can see your brother really felt happy when you shared that donut with him. Well done!”
  2. Try and schedule in some individual time with each of your children. Filling their cup in terms of quality time with each parent will help to stave off those conflicts that come from competing for your attention.
  3. Keep the interest high. Easier said than done over a 4-week break, but keeping the kids engaged can help reduce boredom and thus, fights. Remember that activities do not need to be expensive! A super-mum I know recently did a “playground crawl” with her kids in her local suburbs – she mapped out 7 local playgrounds, set a timer at the start of each one and when the alarm rang, they jumped back in the car and raced to the next one! Kids had an absolute ball (and so did that Mum!). Google can provide lots of activity inspiration, but also things like having a picnic in the backyard, everyone choosing a book and reading in the sunshine, going on a bushwalk, making homemade icypoles, attending your local library holiday program, are all inexpensive ways to keep busy.
  4. Finally, keep your expectations low and BACK OFF. While engagement and activities are great, this also needs to be balanced with down-time. Children need to learn how to occupy themselves when they feel bored. If every minute of their day is scheduled, they won’t know how to sit with quiet, how to let their minds wander or develop creative games. So when you’re feeling mentally tough – back off and leave them to it. It will help them in the long run!

Madeline Sibbing – Psychologist

Madeline is a paediatric Psychologist based at Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston, and a mum of two whose parenting advice comes not only from her work, but the mistakes she has made on her own kids!  Since she can’t be a hip-hop dancer, she figures she has the best job in the world and loves learning from the kids she sees at work every day!

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