Inside: What you can do before, during and after aggressive sibling arguments to diffuse things before fights erupt and turn violent.
“If you don’t quit fighting, I am going to put you in your own rooms for the rest of the day!!!”
“Listen kids, we can’t go to the ER, even if you get hurt! – I’m going to have to stitch you up myself! So quit rough housing!”
“No, we cannot get away from each other.”
How many of us are dealing with kids constantly fighting over absolutely everything?
- Fighting over their toys.
- Fighting over who gets to go first.
- Fighting over who gets to be with mom.
- Fighting over which game they’re gonna play.
- Fighting over what they’re going to do
or even …
- fighting over breathing too loud?!
Many of us grew up fighting with our own siblings.
Getting into arguments.
Maybe even getting hurt and blaming the other sibling.
Hiding things and trying to get the other siblings in trouble.
This is not something new.
But it feels a lot worse right now, because many of us have been dealing with Covid and stay at home orders and huge changes in routine.
Our kids are not getting their connection buckets filled by going to school and seeing their friends.
We are going on almost a year of being stuck at home…
We can’t really go to very many places at all.
My kids haven’t been away from each other in months!!!
And even me, someone who helps parents.
Who helps others learn how to get kids to get along…
How to build a connected relationship…
How to have a thriving relationship….
Even in my own house we’re dealing with sibling upset and arguments.
Today we are going to be talking about how to diffuse arguments before they turn violent and you end up having to go to the ER or someone gets a broken bone.
Maybe you’re dealing with huge age gaps, or kids that are close in age that bicker over everything.
Or maybe you’re dealing with kids who have totally different needs.
Perhaps one is incredibly aggressive and overpowering, while the other one barely gets a word in edgewise.
This is going to work no matter which situation you are in.
Does this look familiar?
That’s because …
Sibling Rivalry is Nothing New
RIGHT NOW is actually the best time in the world to be working on sibling relationships.
We’re stuck inside.
We have more time.
You’re not going to a million different things, you’re right there with them.
The world has slowed down for you.
We can take the time needed to teach the skills our kids need to get along.
Now I know your to do list is super long. — Many of you are working from home, doing e-learning, plus all the other stuff.
However, being stuck at home right now provides you with an opportunity to actually come out stronger than when you went in.
Related: How to Get Siblings to Play Together Nicely Without Constant Attention
Sibling Arguments Don’t Have to Be Your “Normal”
Why is now the best time to be focusing on problem solving?
Well, to be honest, there are a lot of grownups who still struggle to solve problems by using kind words or understand where the other person is coming from. This is because many of them were never taught this as a child.
Imagine this being a time your kids look back on and realize that this was a turning point for them. Imagine if they learned…
- How to communicate
- How to play together
- How to talk to each other
- How to problem solve together
How you might have tried to get siblings to get along in the past…
I know you’ve tried lots of things that aren’t working.
I know there are questions that you may have…
- Like how do you handle siblings who get into fights over absolutely anything? Over space, over toys. Over breathing in each other’s vicinity.
- Or how do you keep your kids from getting so ramped up and out of control so you can stop the fights before they get ugly?
- Or how do you know the right time to intervene before playing nicely turns bad (throwing game pieces, storming off and screaming shut up?)
- How do you deal with one sibling that just seems to want to be mean all the time… like calling their sibling “dumb”, pulling their hair, kicking their stomach, biting them so bad that they leave a bruise.
And last but not least,
- How do you deal with rough housing that almost always ends in someone getting hurt?
Many of you have told me this is exactly what it’s like in your house.
So, I want you to know —
You are in the right place!
In fact, I’ve surveyed over 100,000 parents and some have told me they have tried to ignore the arguing and the fighting, hoping that it would just go away.
They have tried to focus on the good, ignore the bad…
But it just gets worse!! It’s not helping.
And then I’ve also heard from people who say that they try to separate the kids.
Keep them apart so that they don’t ever get in a fight to begin with.
But then they they end up fighting anyway!
You can try to force your kids to share and play together nicely…
“Here’s one toy.
Or I’m going to take the toy away!!!”
How does that end?
It comes to blows really fast, Right?
You can also try to be present every single moment that they are together.
But here’s the thing, that gets super exhausting and you end up not having any time to yourself or you end up paying attention to one child, (the one that tends to be more controlling or more aggressive) and then the other kids feel ignored.
Siblings Have to Be Taught the Skill of Problem Solving
None of this matters if the siblings don’t actually have an understanding of what it means to problem solve. If they don’t have that deeper understanding and those skills needed to solve problems together.
I’ve spent over 15 years putting together research, personal experience, and working with thousands of families around the world to create proven out of the box strategies that work with even the most difficult kiddos.
I am not just some fancy shmancy professional touting the best case scenarios.
Instead, I am someone who has been in the trenches with you and had a sibling who was incredibly aggressive and hurtful.
I’m also raising three super kids of my own who struggle with different things.
My oldest was extremely aggressive. He struggled to recognize social cues. He had trouble knowing what someone was saying and what they meant.
He missed those nuances.
So, with his siblings, he really struggled to connect with them and play with them.
He also constantly wants to be around others.
He’s impulsive so he may touch your things, come into your room, or repeat things over and over again because he likes to script his favorite YouTube shows or games.
And that can be really annoying to his brothers and sisters.
We’ve had to work extra hard on getting them to work together and understand each other.
How Do You Get Siblings to Stop Fighting When There is a Huge Age Gap
I am reminded of one of our students, Kylie.
She is a mama of eight kiddos – a huge family!
So if you’re thinking,
“I don’t know if this is gonna work…
I’ve got lots of kids.
There’s a large age gap.
I don’t know if this works with toddlers.
I don’t know if this works with teens….
Kylie’s got them all!!
And Kylie was really struggling because little Gracie, who is three years old, would get into her teenage siblings things… and I’m talking things that are dangerous, like medications or razors, makeup, things that are expensive.
She would break things and she would mess things up and it was causing so many fights.
They would just scream at Gracie, then Gracie would get upset and Kylie was left just feeling like she was constantly having to watch her.
But then she started focusing on what I’m going to talk about today.
And she started seeing a huge shift in her family.
She focused on working with Gracie, and the older ones, so that they would understand what Gracie wanted and needed.
So they could understand how to talk to Gracie and how to build up that connection out of the moment.
So when she was in their stuff, they didn’t just lash out at her or yell at her or scream at her or hit her.
Instead they problem-solved with her.
That is what we’re going to be talking about today!!
The big piece that Kylie implemented that helped their family SO MUCH is something that here at Calm the Chaos we call HUDDLES.
Sibling Fighting Can Be a Huge Trigger for Us, As Grownups
Before we dive in, I want to talk about something.
Something that doesn’t get talked about enough when we’re dealing with siblings and arguments, and fighting, and violence.
When we’re talking about…
- one kid overshadowing are overpowering another kid.
- one kid having more control than another kid.
- one kid seeming like they’re manipulating the other child.
As grownups, we bring a lot of old stories to the table.
We bring a lot of triggers, a lot of beliefs, a lot of feelings from our childhood. From how we were raised, things that might have happened to us.
For example, I was raised with a brother who hit me, who hurt me and who stole from me and who did so many things to me.
And I could take that, and use that lens of looking at my past trauma, my past hurt, looking at the way my siblings or my kiddos are getting along with their siblings.
And I could say..
“Oh my gosh, you’re just like my brother!”
“You’re just going to turn out like that!”
And when I do that, I am not helping the situation.
I have to heal my own pain first.
I have to realize that my issues, my stories with my siblings have nothing to do with my kids.
It’s not about me.
It’s about them.
So I have to change that lens first.
I’m asking all of you to think about that.
If you’re applying all the strategies here and still struggling, I want you to think… How am I approaching the situation?
- How were you treated by other people?
- How have you been seen?
- How do you see violence?
What stories do you have around violence or around hurting, arguing or control?
You have to dig deep.
Why does this bother me?
Why does this upset me?
Why does this scare me?
And then remove that.
When you enter into the situation with your kiddos, I’m telling you, it is going to be incredibly powerful if you can remove your own lens before jumping in to help your kiddos.
Diffusing Sibling Arguments Happens BEFORE the Arguments Ever Start
The very first thing that you want to do when you are working with your kids to help them with arguments is you want to have a BEFORE PLAN.
This is where you’re going to have a huddle.
This is where you get together and you talk about a problem that you’ve noticed.
It might sound something like this…
“So, I noticed…
When you guys are both in the same room, you end up in an argument.
I’d like to help you solve that problem.
Let’s talk about what is happening during those times.”
The whole point of this huddle is to come up with a plan they can use in the moment.
You want to keep it simple — you’re not going to be able to solve all of their problems, especially if this is your very first huddle.
What is a Huddle?
A huddle is something that you want to make part of your daily practice.
Huddles aren’t plans that come from top-down.
It doesn’t come from you alone.
Instead, they come from your kids collaborating and coming up with something together.
HINT: You want to have problem solving huddles over things that don’t really matter first.
- What do you want to do for dinner?
- What kind of ice cream should we have?
- What should we do this weekend?
You want to make huddles a place of connection and celebration.
We have huddles every single day, but most of the time we have no problems to solve.
And I know that sounds ridiculous, but when huddles are part of your day-to-day routine it really is possible.
Step One: Before the arguments, you want to make a plan.
The type of plan that I suggest when you’re first starting out is coming up with a win, then a plan.
“When this happens, I will…”
And you want that for both sides of the story.
So for my son, who may be dealing with his sister who is screaming at him, because she has something we call goat wine. ( which BTW…. It’s just LOUD!)
We have to come up with a plan.
When Flora screams, Then I will walk away.
And then, I talked to Flora about it. “Why could Eli possibly make you scream?”
“He touches my things without asking”.
Okay let’s make a plan…
“When Eli touches my things without asking, THEN you can say… “please put that down”.
So we’re coming up with a win, then plan for each of our kids.
Are they going to get it perfect the first time?
But at least we have a plan going in.
Just a Reminder:
- Make it visual
- Make it simple
- Make it WITH the kids
Use the script…
When Gracie gets into my things I will…
When Eli yells at me I will…
This does not come from top down.
It doesn’t come from you alone.
It comes from your kids collaborating and coming up with a plan together.
Step Two: During the Argument, Get Closer & Be the Guide
So what happens if you haven’t had a huddle, a problem erupts and you didn’t have a plan for it ahead of time?
Your kids are in the living room.
They’re throwing things at each other.
They’re screaming at each other.
Or with the case with Eli and Flora, they’re both screaming back and forth.
So this is where during the arguments, we can’t just make a plan and expect our kids to be able to do it.
Instead, we want to get as close to them as possible.
Now, I’m not saying you have to constantly be with your kids.
But in the beginning when you’re first developing these skills, you’ll want to be close so you can monitor and guide your kids, instead of just yelling at them to be nice to each other from the other room.
I want you to think…
- How can you be their guide and their monitor?
- How can you help provide a safe place for them?
- How can you help them get to a calm zone?
- How can you start noticing the ramping up?
Your goal during the argument is to help them get to a safe place, help them get back to CALM and help notice the ramping.
You’re just being their guide during the moment.
It’s not for problem solving.
I am going to remind you that in the moment it is all about riding the storm.
If they are screaming, if they are hitting, if they are kicking, if they are yelling, if they are biting,
if they are calling each other names…
They are already in fight, flight or freeze and you are not going to be able to get to them logically.
So it is all about diffusing in the moment.
The thing I want you to remember is you need to make a plan before.
“When my sibling does this, then I will do this.
And then during, you want to be that guide.
Monitor and help them get to a safe, calm zone.
Once you’ve gotten them to that calm place, once you’ve settled the big blow up, then and only then can you talk about the problem.
Step Three: AFTER Everyone is Calm, Debrief for a New Plan
After the dust has settled, you want to have something that we call a debrief huddle.
Until you actually get to the root of the problem, until you actually identify why the fight happened in the first place…
It’s going to keep happening over and over and over again.
So, instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall, trying all the different strategies and tools you want to work, you really want to focus on the step by step journey.
How can we make the next time just a little bit better, and the next time just a little bit better…
We’re not looking for your kids suddenly being angels together.
We’re looking to start small.
Maybe the fight isn’t as intense, or they don’t say as mean of words, or they stop quicker.
That way you can start seeing that progress.
Did you miss our Sibling Get Along Poster Set with “Phrases Siblings Can use Instead of Stop! Don’t”? Click here to grab the poster set.
How to Have a Debrief Huddle:
Ask : “What do we want to do again?”
Well, I liked playing this game.
I liked being around my brother.
What this does is it helps you focus on the wins. So the do again is your win.
Ask: “What part do we want to do differently?”
She screamed at you? What could you have done instead of yelling back?
What could you have done at the very beginning when you wanted to help her instead of jumping in?
- What was great about the scenario?
- What do you want to repeat?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What can you do instead?
The “do different” is the thing that could use some tweaking, like calling each other “poopy heads” or yelling at each other’s face.
This is where you come up with your new plan.
If you never had a plan before, you’re going to come with a brand new one.
If you had a plan before and it didn’t work, you’re going to tweak that plan.
You don’t get braces and then magically have straight teeth.
No. Instead you have to go back in, back in and get them tightened and retweaked.
Again, we’re not looking for perfection.
We’re looking for that gradual tweaking of the plan. We don’t want to throw it all away just because it didn’t work that first time.
Out of the moment you’re solving the problem and coming up with new plans.
What Do You Do If Siblings Still Fight?
And now, you might be wondering…
How do I put all this together?
Also, if you haven’t yet, grab the free Sibling Get Along Posters here.