Coping with Sibling Wars

I need some advice about what to do about my 11yr old and my 4yr old fighting.The 11 yr old gets frustrated easily with his brother and always hits and pushes, and yells at him which makes him scream and cry. I have tried to do all that I know how to get it to stop. I make sure that I spend time with each of them every day alone, but as soon as we’re done they immediately start in on the fighting. I have seriously considered walking away. I love them but I don’t know how to handle the situation and it seems to be getting worse with them.

As I’m sure you know, Kids are egocentric, and so they have difficulty seeing other people’s point of view. They can’t be expected to know how to resolve conflict on their own, so we can’t just leave it up to them. But they have to learn, so it’s important for us not to resolve the problem for them every time they fight, but instead teach them the skills to resolve it themselves. Here are some practical guidelines for you :

1. Observe a few fights from start to finish without intervening, to get a sense of what actually goes on. Make sure you see as well as hear, because nonverbal behaviours such as kicking or making faces also contribute to fights.

2. When you observe, put yourself in each child’s shoes. Here’s what might be going on in the younger child: He’s bored, because you (the parent) won’t play with him any more. He hasn’t learned to entertain himself yet, and he’s discovered that bugging his brother makes life interesting. Sometimes he gets to play with his brother, and sometimes his brother gets mad at him, and if he yells loud enough, mom comes running to rescue him from his brother, and he gets mom’s attention and gets to be the “good boy” while mom reprimands his brother. Here’s what it might be like for the older child: He gets more and more frustrated because he can’t do anything without being interrupted, and he’s trying to read, play a game, watch TV, or do his homework. He doesn’t want to be a babysitter. His brothers escalates his “bugging” behaviour when he doesn’t get attention, and finally the older boy just can’t take it any more and explodes in frustration. This is a typical pattern. If the parent doesn’t get involved until there’s screaming, it’s easy for the parent to assume the older child is picking on the younger one, when in most cases it’s the other way round!

3. Give each child his own space, such as his bedroom, where he can go if he doesn’t want to interact with the other child. Let them both know they aren’t allowed to enter one another’s private spaces. Probably the one who starts the fights won’t like it, but that’s tough.

4. When you understand what’s going on, coach each child on how to deal with the situation. Teach them to use words instead of screams and fists. The little one can ask his brother to play with him, and the older one can say “when I finish this, in about half an hour.”

5. Anticipate difficult situations. Invite friends over to play with the little one so he won’t be bored, or put videos on for him. Ask older one to do homework in his room.

6. Intervene early if you see or hear the beginning stages of a fight to prevent it. For example, you can distract the child who’s bored and give him something to do.

7. Don’t automatically come running when someone screams or hits. After you’d taught the children some conflict resolution skills, let them know they’re on their own and you’re going to walk away. They have to learn how to prevent it getting to that point.

8. Never become the judge of who’s right and who’s wrong in a fight, or who started it. If you do, the kids will create more fights just for the opportunity to have you choose between them, hoping they will get to be your favourite.

9. If a fight gets violent or you can’t stand the noise, just separate the kids and send them to their rooms or to different places to cool down, or in warm weather tell them they have to fight outside.

I hope these guidelines will help you deal with it. Be reassured; most siblings who fight get on fine when they grow up.

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