Today’s Question: Fighting Siblings
“I understand that it’s summer and my kids are spending a lot of time together but constantly fighting siblings is so annoying! Mostly arguing, stealing toys, tattling, but it can escalate to hitting, biting and total meltdowns. It bothers me to see my kids treat each other so poorly. I try to limit their screen time but it’s so tempting to give in just so I can have some peace! No matter what I do, the problem persists and I feel like I’m failing at teaching my kids how to love each other.”
Parent Educator Answer:
It is so common for moms to see behavior they don’t like and think, “This is a problem and I need to solve it.” So we go to work, breaking up fights, resolving conflict, separating kids or taking away toys or whatever the triggers are. If this works, great. If not, it might be you are trying to solve a problem that isn’t yours to solve.
Imagine your daughter and son are fighting over whose turn it is. One yells, the other bites, then pushes, then tattles, you know the drill. I find it helpful to separate out who is responsible for what.
Your daughter is responsible for the words she chooses to say to her brother and the way she chooses to say them. It’s her business whether she bites, hits, kicks, or whatever she does with her body.
She also gets to choose how she wants to feel about her brother’s actions. If she wants to interpret his behavior as mean, unfair, or a competition to rise to, that is up to her. Write her name on a piece of paper with a circle and write down everything that is your daughter’s business.
Then we move on to kid #2. Put his name on the paper with a circle and write down his words, his feelings, his actions. He gets to decide what he wants to think about his sister’s behavior, his mom’s behavior, and his own.
If he wants to believe he is right and everyone else is wrong, that’s his choice. You can let that go. If he thinks the world is unfair and you love his sister more than him, that goes in his circle. That is his problem to solve, not yours.
The 3rd circle is God’s business. Even if you aren’t a God person, anything YOU don’t have control over goes here. The fact that you have two children who share living quarters is God’s business.
Your children’s innate personalities, we throw those in God’s circle, it’s just how they are wired. The fact that many siblings fight with each other as a way to learn social dynamics isn’t our business. Kids can be like puppies, fighting, wrestling and learning social boundaries.
Watch your children argue with each other. Could they leave the room at any time and are choosing not to? Is it possible they are ENJOYING fighting with each other? “Verbal jousting” is more entertaining than a lot of other things kids could be doing. If one kid is having fun by fighting, and the other one isn’t, God’s business.
So what’s left? If what your children think, say, feel and do are not your problem to solve? What the heck is mom’s business?
Your business, Momma, is what YOU choose to think, feel, and do. You get to decide what you want to believe about your fighting kiddos and the rules you set in your home. To do that, we’d better dive into life coaching.
Life Coaching Answer: Rules for Fighting Siblings
When we think “This is a problem and I need to fix it.” We put on our Supermom cape and go to work. We get to the bottom of things. From there make decisions. We yell and put kids on time out. We give consequences. If this works, great. The problem comes when this DOESN’T work.
If the result is that our kids are still arguing and we are still thinking this a problem and I need to fix it. We start spiraling up (yelling more, getting more annoyed with them) or spiraling down (walk away, give up, stop caring).
When we have the thought, “This is a problem and I need to fix it” and WE CAN’T, we feel like a failure. We start thinking things like, “I’m failing at teaching my kids how to love each other.” This thought makes us feel completely dejected, hopeless, and ashamed, which makes Supermom feel very, very tired.
I know you want fighting siblings to get along, but that’s really up to them. They get to decide what kind of relationship they want to have with one another. You can suggest peaceful ways to interact, you can let them see you resolving conflict in peaceful ways with your friends and family. Learning to let go of things you have no control over will set you free.
One thing that is your business are the rules you establish in your home. Kids like clear, consistent expectations for behavior.
It makes them feel safe when they know what to expect, and that an authority figure will follow through with 100% predictability.
Some House Rules
I suggest my clients establish House Rules that everyone abides by. Rules that everyone in the house agrees will make for a peaceful place to live. For example:
- No name calling.
- No hitting or hurting.
- Ask first before borrowing someone else’s belongings
Post these rules on the fridge or a public place where everyone can see. Make sure your kids know what the consequences are for breaking these rules then follow through.
You may want to say things like “use nice words” but that may make a better consequence. Let’s say your daughter hurts her brother’s feelings, her consequence may be that she find some nice words to uplift him.
Fighting siblings have been common since the dawn of time. To think, “I must not be doing it right if my kids are fighting” is not helpful. Just like a teacher isn’t responsible for your child’s grades, you aren’t responsible for your child’s relationship.
You get to TEACH kids how to treat each other. Teach them your values, establish rules and expectations, teach them to apologize and make amends, but whatever they do with your amazing lessons is their business.
Supermom Kryptonite – Being the hero
I remember when my son was scary sick. Trying to figure out what to do, I was bouncing from doctor to doctor. It was stressful – I was scared and nearly lost my mind when they sent his prescription to the wrong pharmacy, right before closing time. I felt like I was all alone in trying to solve his health problems.
So I pulled out my life coaching notebook and this amazing thought popped into my head, “I was made for days like this.” Suddenly I had a burst of energy. My Supermom cape was ON! I could totally handle this. I’m great in a crisis. This is my son, who better to come to the rescue than his mother? Yes, I am the perfect person for the job. So I researched and persisted. Then I found alternative practitioners who knew how to help. The hero in me came through and I felt great about all I did to help him.
So why is it a kryptonite?
Because then he turned 14 and I was fired. He wanted to be his own hero. Seems he didn’t want my help anymore and he wanted to solve his own problems.
This sounds great on paper, but it was an identity crisis for me. It’s not like he was perfect, the just wanted to be left alone with his own problems to solve. It was a rough transition and to be honest, it’s still hard to not be allowed to help. I loved being the hero.
Some kids never become their own hero. I’m sure you know some adults who need mom and count on mom to come to their rescue.
It is easy for kids to get stuck feeling helpless, unwell or incapable. Moms may inadvertently keep their kids from “adulting” in order to hold on to their role as a hero.
I was lucky I had life coaching colleagues who warned me. “Be careful not to let your son identify as a sick person and you as his care giver.” I didn’t like hearing it, but another coach told me, “Your son doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him.”
Being a Supermom feels great, but don’t get stuck there. Make sure you hang up your cape frequently. Let fighting siblings work out their own problems, allow them to struggle, so they can be the heroes of their own lives.
Supermom Powerboost – Ear phones
When kids are going at it with each other, it can be really hard to ignore. You can think about the benefits of bickering and how your kids are learning about respecting boundaries and resolving conflict.
If that doesn’t work, pop on a noise-cancelling headset. These babies are the best mom invention I know. Not those tiny airpods that your kids can’t see you wearing. Big, obvious earphones work great to demonstrate you are not listening, nor interested in hearing about your children’s conflict.
No amount of “MOOMMM” is as compelling as your music, your podcast, or, let’s be honest, the beautiful sound of silence.
Putting big earphones on is a non-verbal way to say to your kids, “I trust you to work it out”. When kids see you disengaged, they realize this relationship is theirs to figure out and you are giving them permission to solve their own problems. Only if they break a house rule do you need to go in between the fighting siblings. Let them be their own hero.
Quote of the Day: “My Mom taught me a lot. A lot about minding my own business and leaving other people’s business alone. And let them think what they want.” Ray Charles.