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When Siblings Fight: Parenting Advice

Updated on April 3, 2013

Kids Behavior Problems. We are not our parents

My favorite ironic parenting scene: Mom grabs her child and whacks him on the back of the head, stop that! How many times have I told you not to hit your brother? OK maybe this scene isn’t as common as it used to be but for my parent’s generation it was quite typical and very few people at the time saw the irony in it. Most parents just didn’t equate their punitive whacks to their child with the hitting behavior of their kids. Well guess what folks; monkey see, monkey do.

My brother and I had a few good knock down drag out battles when we were young. I think our parents were doing their very best. I really do. They just didn’t really know any other options other than separating us or spanking us. It appears that fighting is still one of the more common kids behavior problems. And it doesn't help that many cartoons and TV shows still have a lot of smacking and whacking going on in them and quite simply, kids emulate what they see.

There are also still many parents who believe in spanking. They don’t believe it hurt them and if it was good enough for their parents then it must be good enough for them. I understand having loyalty to ones parents but raising our kids a little differently isn’t a slap in the face to our parents. It’s just that we have found better ways to parent. Their is a lot of parenting advice available and parents should learn to discipline children without hitting.

Parenting tips for when kids hit each other.

The long and short of it is that we only intervene when they actually hit each other. Otherwise kids will argue as a normal part of sibling rivalry. It’s better to let them figure out how to problem solve on their own without parents stepping in and always playing referee. When we see them trying to reason and cooperate we definitely need to take notice. It’s always important to catch our kids when they do things we like and not just when we notice our 'kids behavior problem'.

When we do need to intervene we want to use time outs. We just need to quickly let them know they are in time out for arguing and that’s it. There is nothing further that needs to be said during the timeouts or after them. Try not to get in the habit of just timing out one child. It takes two to argue and when we start to play judge and jury it can allow our kids to try to manipulate us. Often the instigator is the one getting hit. Yes the hitting isn’t OK but our goal is to encourage cooperative play for both children as much as possible, and not end up seeming like we are engaging in favoritism. When arguing leads to someone getting hit, it is best to cool off both kids by using time outs.

Parenting advice: Being persitent

When the time out is finished its best to throw them back in the water and see if they can swim. Remind them they are more than capable of getting along and that our differences with each other shouldn’t lead to violence. Remember, it’s hard to make that statement if you spank your kids. For parents who use spanking I can only say good luck. You’re on a slippery slope when you start to justify one kind of hitting but not another.

One of the parenting tips parents need to hear is that for time outs to work a parent has to be very consistent and persistent. Some kids will keep testing and testing. It is easy for a parent to give up and just separate their children. But for some kids behavior problems it can take as many as 30 timeouts before they are able to really get the message. A parent has to be pretty dedicated to get this message across but if you really don’t want your kids fighting then plan to spend the better part of a day trying to reinforce the message that you want them to play peacefully and that you draw the line at hitting.

One last piece of parenting advice

Stay cool while setting limits. Remember for this approach to work the parent has to be firm and confident when enforcing the timeouts. However, getting angry or upset may undermine the whole process because your negative attention maybe more important to your children than their need to avoid a timeout. Children will seek out negative attention for a variety of reasons so as parents we need to expend more effort reinforcing what they do right and calmly setting limits and boundaries when problem behaviors do arise. Of all the parenting advice parents can hear regarding their kids problem behavior it's; be persistent, stay calm, and follow through when using timeouts.


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    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      nice info here which parents and children need to your write up.thanks

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 6 years ago from The Great White North

      Thanks for the comments Dawn, Komst and Phoenix. I know a lot of parents won't tolerate arguing. The thing is that when kids watch their parents demand compliance, kids often end up being just as stubborn and demanding about what they want. They are just following their parents lead.

      Another good way to encourage cooperative play is by actually playing with our children. My boys used to often fight with their action figures and I would try to encourage them to work together to overcome and obstacle, like undersea adventure of deep space mission. This is one way we can lead without seeming too bossy. Children's books that encourage cooperation are good too, like the Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight or I Want It (Crary, Elizabeth, Children's Problem Solving Book.)

    • phoenixarizona profile image

      phoenixarizona 6 years ago from Australia

      WOW! TPSciotte. I love this Hub. I have seven kids and needless to say there is always an arguement going on in my household. I am strong believer in allowing them to argue as this will help them learn to deal with these situations when they're older. However, you can't let it get to yelling than hitting.

      Long story short I agree 100% with your hub. Exactly what you have said is how I do things with my children. We can't let our kids believe that feeling angry justifies hitting and thanks to you others will be all the more wiser! :)

    • Dawn Conklin profile image

      Dawn Conklin 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Great article! I have 2 girls who fight a lot. Not usually physical but they fight over everything. If it is a toy, it gets taken away for a little while. Most of the time the fighting happens when I am out of the room. One comes in the kitchen claiming the other did something. I tell them I did not see it and they can both go to the wall if they can't get along.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast

      We got rid of the high chair a couple of years ago. The time outs locations with her have been (I hate to say it) inconsistent as I've tried to come up with better options. I usually send them to their room for a quiet time-time out which works great with the 5-year-old because she'll just read. The other refuses to go in her room and will sit on the edge of the threshold with just one toe touching her room just in defiance. I know that associating their bedroom with a punishment is not right but no other spot in the house has worked well either and frankly, when she's behaving badly I just need her out of my sight! I will definitely check out your time out hub; thanks for the suggestion - and thanks for letting me vent!

      Oh, and as far as rewarding good behavior - we try to do fun family things on the weekends - park, zoo, beach, pony rides and we let them know that if they start fighting we won't go and they STILL end up fighting ... so we don't go anywhere to punish their bad behavior and end up stuck in the house all day listening to them fight on and off all day!

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 6 years ago from The Great White North

      I hear you. This can be a real territorial thing for kids but they will eventually learn. If they just stay separated we might feel better but it doesn't help in the long run. Remember to catch them when they are being cooperative and playing peacefully together. That seems to always help.

      I don't think it helps when parents try to play judge and pick one side over another. You might also have to find other consequences like the removal of a contentious toy or game. But usually the conflict is about a power struggle. If kids are asserting a need for power it could mean they need to be given more choices throughout the day or we need to empower them by giving them unique jobs as mommy's helpers.

      Does the four year old do a time out in a high chair? It is hard to test much if they are in a high chair. Maybe have a look at my hub on timeouts. There are ways to make them more effective. But if the older one is more cooperative than the younger one then allow them to end their time out a little early. Reward them for being cooperative and peaceful. That is the value we are trying to encourage in the first place.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast

      Very good info here. I have two girls - 4 and 5. For the past year or so I have struggled with them constantly fighting. Like you suggest above, I don't intervene unless it gets physical. The problem is that it ALWAYS gets physical - a push, a pinch, hair pulling, hitting... It's constant and I'm at my whit's end and out of ideas. I do time outs - the 5-year-old obeys, while the 4-year-old tests and tests and tests. It takes all I've got to stay calm while my insides are ready to burst!

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 6 years ago from The Great White North

      Yes I agree. Besides all that negative attention will just reinforce the behavior. Kids do whatever gets attention so better not to react until they have crossed that line. We always want to encourage cooperation and respectful play but over reacting doesn't help.

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis786 6 years ago

      Very good is indeed a fact that siblings argues a lot out of natural rivalry specially when the ages between the two differs more than five years.....but this is again a fact that these same siblings become friends in no as a parent we should take extra care in dealing with them and not to scold them too much to suppress their self esteem.Thanks

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 7 years ago from The Great White North

      You are most welcome. It can be pretty taxing after a while can't it? I hope it does help.

    • kirutaye profile image

      kirutaye 7 years ago from London, UK

      As a parent of two kids who squabble sometimes, it's useful to read this. Thanks for sharing.