Sibling Rivalry – But he hit me first!

It is normal for children to fight some of the time. It would be very strange, and of concern, if they didn’t get angry and attack each other with strong emotion, occasionally. However, fighting can be successfully diminished if parents and carers can follow some effective guidelines that I will outline. Prevention is obviously much better than fixing a problem. All children are different from birth, with dissimilar temperaments and needs. Some children are quite sensitive, whilst others are very casual and easy going, and most are somewhere in-between. Therefore children can’t be treated in exactly the same way. Children will often fight for attention or power in front of parents or carers. It is up to us to decide on their purpose, and follow through with appropriate strategies eg giving regular positive power and consistent positive attention, and playing down the negative as much as possible.


If you argue with your partner frequently in front of your children or in hearing range, your children are more likely to argue. If you call your partner names and criticise him or her, your children are watching, listening and learning how to behave. If you yell at your partner around your children, they come to believe that this is normal and acceptable behaviour. On the other hand, if they observe you discussing a problem with your partner in a mature manner, where you listen actively to each other, and try to work out solutions, your children will more likely follow this healthy, respectful role modelling.

Promote and Practice Positivity

If we can remain calm and positive most of the time, and focus on positive behaviours, we will find that our children will be less likely to quarrel with each other. Noticing and commenting specifically and genuinely about the efforts, improvements, strengths and co-operation will create a positive atmosphere within the family. It is important to let our children know when they are doing something which is unacceptable, and to ask them to stop. If they co-operate, we need to thank them. If they continue with annoying behaviour which is not hurting other people or animals or property, then it is a good idea to turn our attention away from the child, so that the behaviour is not being re-enforced. If the behaviour is more serious (hurting or vandalising) we need to apply a natural or logical consequence. This needs to be done consistently, so that the child learns which behaviour is intolerable, and can predict the parental response each time. Children require preparation for things that are coming up. The more major the event, the more effort we need to expend to familiarise our children with what is likely to happen and answer their questions sensitively. We can explain honestly and in their language, what is going to occur. When we can sense that our children are becoming fractious, we can suggest, or set up, a change of activity, to prevent things from deteriorating. If we can expect good behaviour from our children, they are more likely to oblige. Quite often we can suggest a related acceptable alternative to an inappropriate action. Eg. “Please throw the ball outside, or find a soft ball to play with inside.”

Communicate effectively

If children are arguing loudly, we need to go right over to them, get down to their level, and calmly tell them to stop the yelling. If they stop, we need to thank them. We can then help them resolve the problem or, if they are older, ask them to sort it out, without shouting or hurting. We need to listen carefully to each child’s viewpoint and help them, if younger, to come up with a win/win solution. Effective communication requires careful listening and speaking, and encouraging our children to verbalise their thoughts and feelings. If we can be non-judgemental and reflect feeling and meaning, our children are more likely to open up to us. We need to have regular interesting and positive conversations with our children and surround them with language.

Teach rules and endeavour to prevent problems from happening

It is vital that we remember to keep calm most of the time, and patiently teach correct behaviour. Learning child development and safety basics are essential so that children feel secure and understood. Young children need to be taught the home rules and will need gentle reminders, and sincere and specific encouragement for following these rules. Children older than 3, can be involved in deciding on some rules, that will help everyone to get on well. Eg no name calling, no hurting, no swearing Sometimes children need to be restricted from participation until they are able to handle the responsibility eg. Withholding pens until they have learnt, and are developmentally ready, to only use them consistently on paper. Older kids can be encouraged to negotiate with younger children eg. Swapping a toy that the younger child has pinched, for a more exciting one (from their perspective). Older children can also be taught about younger children’s development, so that they can be more accepting of their behaviour eg difficulties with sharing and taking turns. Giving older children a place to play, without being disturbed for a period of time during the day, can help greatly, with preventing clashes.

Self care

Each member of the family deserves and needs to have their emotional and social wellbeing properly catered for, by having time for fun, relaxation, pampering and following interests. Older children and adults need private individual time and time with friends. Spouses need time to recuperate, and to develop their relationship without the children. Children thrive with individual time with one parent, and families will become closer to each other if they can organise, and participate, in family activities, in and out of the home. Prioritising allows us to get the most important jobs done first, and can help us to feel more relaxed. Organising a routine can give parents and children more security and predictability. Keeping our homes fairly organised and tidy, where all family members are expected to put things back where they belong, is very beneficial. Developing flexibility is similarly valuable for all family members, to manage changing dynamics and unexpected crises. All family members need to be encouraged to be as independent as possible.


Children shouldn’t have to share all their toys, especially if they have just been given a new toy. It’s important that we remember to refrain from comparing our children, when they are in earshot. Eg. “You’re not as good at sums as your sister. You’d better work harder!” Having a goal of wanting each of our children to feel unique, special and lovable is essential, and we need to constantly work toward this. Unconditional love, affection and attention are crucial. “Mum (Dad) watch me!” is a common expression that we need to co-operate with regularly. We can tell children that we love them, and encourage co-operation rather than competition. Giving them lots of limited choices and showing interest in their opinions and verbalisations, will empower our children and build self-esteem.

Discipline respectfully

Helping children to resolve conflict is important when they are young, and needs to lessen as they grow, so that they feel capable and competent. Children younger than about 3 years need to have conflicts resolved by the parent/carer. They usually aren’t ready to share until they are around 2 ½ years. It is preferable with more than one child under 3, to have 2 similar items to play with, or to have activities which allow co-operative play eg sand, water, large boxes, blocks, duplo. If children are getting out of control, where a child is in danger of being hurt, parents need to step in, stop any hurting, and listen to each child’s words and gauge and reflect their feelings. Eg. “You are feeling angry because you were playing with the truck first? What could we do so that you are both happy?” Gradually children are able to wait longer and not feel the strong need to play with the same thing that another child has. They learn to share and take turns, especially if this is fostered early on. It is not wise to play the judge role, when you normally haven’t seen the whole scenario. It is better to tell children to stop the yelling and hurting behaviour, and to listen actively to each child. Any favouritism is unwise, and will lead to feelings of inferiority in a child and possibly resentment if it continues for a long time. Children learn important lessons by resolving conflict and will be better prepared for the outside world if they are practised at it. When children are clashing, it is sometimes necessary to separate them, until they have settled down enough to talk sensibly and calmly about the problems and issues. Employing reasonable and respectful consequences for unacceptable behaviour, will allow our children to learn what they have done wrong, and help them to decide to behave satisfactorily in the long term. We can also ask for input from them, with regard to a suitable consequence. A child may decide that the consequence for not doing a job, that was agreed on previously, leads to a reduction in pocket money, or less time for computer or TV. It’s wise to find out what your children especially like, so that these things can be less readily available to them, when they are behaving unacceptably.

Responsibility for all

Young children generally love to help, and it is definitely advantageous to foster this behaviour. They may not do a job as well as we would, and they may take a lot longer. However, we can usually get them involved in a simple part of the job, and thank them for their efforts. Eg. A young child can help to fold the tea towels or face washers, or he can turn on a vacuum cleaner and help move an object that’s in the way. It’s all about working together. If a child wants to do exactly what you are doing, you can tell her to wait until you have finished a room, and let her have a short turn. Children love to imitate us and it is easier in the long run to allow this, and go a little slower, than having a frustrated and angry child.

Stimulating Activities

If young children don’t have frequent changes of materials and toys and places, they will become bored, restless and start to annoy each other or their parents. This doesn’t mean that we need to buy lots of new toys all the time. We just need to rotate them, and take them outside, or away from home each day, to stimulate all of their senses. Sharing games and activities that foster turn-taking, are valuable experiences for children.

Parenting Style

It pays to be as Democratic as we can be; to respect each other, to share responsibilities and to encourage individuality and independence. Inspiring our children to behave well and fostering self-discipline, is far better than using fear to intimidate our children.