stop sibling squabbles

How To Stop Sibling Squabbles

Are you sick of hearing your kids bicker? Worried they’ll kill each other – or that you’ll be driven to do it yourself?

When my boys were three and six I was at my wits’ end. They were constantly fighting, and I’d morphed into a chronic shout-a-holic.

My older son played the good cop and felt it was his duty to stop his younger brother from doing anything ‘naughty’. ‘No no Marco! No no!’ was his continuous catch phrase.

Of course, this only fuelled the little one’s fire and he quickly became the rebel, doing everything except what he was supposed to.

Even short car journeys were a nightmare with each one pointing to something they saw out their side of the window. If one of them had more interesting things on their side, the other would have a fit. I started taking back roads just to avoid construction sites as bulldozers ruled and I knew it would cause a battle.

It was a downward spiral and I felt increasingly exasperated. Their constant sibling squabbles and complete inability to get along for more than five minutes was driving me to the looney bin.

Thankfully I spotted an ad for a 10-week Parenting Skills course and after a bit of deliberation, I decided to go for it.

Ultimately it changed our family life and I shudder to think of how things would have continued if I hadn’t learned the skills needed to help me be a more calm, happy parent.

Within a few months my boys went from fighting 90% of the time to less than 10%. What a turn-around!

I smile now when people comment on what good friends they are.

They do get on each other’s nerves during long school breaks and every so often they’ll have a brief squabble over something  – usually if they’re playing a game and one of them is losing and wants to call it quits.

So how did they go from foes to friends?

Good question and one I have to reflect on as it didn’t happen overnight.

1. Give positive feedback

I began noticing when they weren’t fighting. When they played for even two minutes without a squabble, I’d say something like, ‘Wow, I love seeing you two playing so nicely!’ with a huge smile on my face. When driving I’d say it was ‘music to my ears’ to be in a peaceful car and thank them for being so quiet. When one did something kind for the other, I made sure they noticed I’d noticed! By giving more attention to the good, things quickly improved.

2. Avoid competitiveness and comparison

No more saying things like, ‘Who can get dressed first?’ or ‘Why don’t you finish your dinner like your brother?’.  I encouraged my husband to stop making them race against each other. We made a point of looking at school work and report cards with each one separately and never compare their grades or abilities in anything.

3. Spend quality ‘one on one’ time with each of them

This isn’t always easy, but filling their love tanks daily makes a big difference. I made a real effort to connect with them individually by reading meaningful books together like The Family Virtues Guide, All Kinds of Feelings and Incredible You. These are great tools to spark lively conversations and they help with self-esteem, emotional literacy and understanding values.

4. Promote sibling love

I commented on how lucky they were to have a brother to play with. I’d point out casually that if they didn’t have one it might feel lonely and less fun. I didn’t expect a response, it was just something I sprinkled into the mix every so often.

After a few months, a real friendship evolved. The spats became few and far between and they began to genuinely enjoy spending time together. They went on to become great friends – whew! If only I’d had a crystal ball and could have foreseen this.

If sibling squabbles are driving you bonkers, take the bull by the horns and do something about it. The longer you wait, the more time you’re wasting. Yes, they might grow out of it – or not. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

I’m now a proud affiliate of The Parent Practice’s Positive Parenting Academy. It’s the same 10-week course I did, but now it’s been made into an on-line course so you can do it from home no matter where you live.

Use this link and enter coupon code PROJECTME at checkout to get a lovely 20% discount.

Ready to reduce sibling squabbles? Leave a comment below telling me what your best takeaways are or share any tips and successes you’ve had. Peace not war!

Photo Credit: demandaj via Compfight cc

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  1. Shelagh Willis on April 22, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Great Monday motivator Kelly, my girls have gone from really being mean to each other to sitting on each other’s beds talking, sharing clothes, even falling asleep in the same bed! At 17 and 13 the oldest is planning to take her sister for a girly shop and spend her hard earned money in her too!
    Meanwhile I have noticed a change in the 13 and 11 year old’s relationship, arguments and fights are building so this blog has come at the right time to serve as a reminder of how to manage this. Thank you! X

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on April 22, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Thanks for your lovely comment Shelagh and I’m so happy to hear your girls becoming great friends 🙂 We have to remember that they go through so many stages and just when you think you’ve got one situation under control, another one pops up to challenge us.

      The most important thing is not to blame the kids, but to look at the underlying causes and be the grown up in the situation who seeks solutions. It’s a great way to model conflict resolution for our children. Wishing you the best of luck!

  2. Lucy on April 22, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    I really needed this today and also the link in the article on how to Stop Shouting at Your Kids (a good refresher there!). The comments have calmed me down tremendously. My three have driven me up the wall this Easter break and I told them all yesterday that I just wanted to run away (not a great thing to say in hindsight but it was how I felt). I think it is really difficult for all of us Mums when you begin to think “Is this what my life has become” as you spend the day dealing with squabbling children and just picking up after them all day long. Anyway, there are some really helpful tips and ideas on this article and I shall be buying some of the books mentioned but most of all, just when I was feeling like I alone am an awful mother who is unable to cope with my children, it means a lot of see that I am not the only one feeling out of control.

  3. Kelly Pietrangeli on April 22, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I’m happy to hear this landed in your lap at the right time Lucy. It’s no coincidence that I planned this one for the end of the Easter school break 😉

    Thanks for being so honest and candid about your struggles. Other mothers will read your comment and know they’re not the only ones. No matter how perfect some other families appear on the outside, we all go through similar struggles and ranges of emotions. I didn’t even go into detail in this blog about the true extent of this problem and what it did to my sanity and even my relationship with my husband. It was hell. But I’m naturally a very proactive person who devours self-help, personal growth and parenting books (plus courses and workshops) and I found my way out of it and am now in a position to help others.

    You will love Dr. Laura’s book I link to in this blog:

  4. Nicholette von Reiche on April 22, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    My toddler doesn’t have a sibling yet, but I remember my own childhood squabbles with my siblings ( I was the rebel saying “you are not the boss of me” 😉 and from my nannying days I how it can be a tough phase.

    I love these tips and I too try and point out positive behavior. It’s a much better change of focus.

    Am bookmarking that course for future referencing, thank you Kelly.

  5. Kelly Pietrangeli on April 22, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    You’re so welcome Nicholette. I often think I wish I’d learned a lot of these things ahead of time so I wasn’t left trying to UN do all of the bad behaviours I’d gotten into! 😉

  6. Tishaira Bennett on April 23, 2014 at 2:58 AM

    We are a very competitive family by nature. Lately my 6 and 8 year old boys have been driving me crazy. I did not realize it until I read your post that we are always making things a competition. Thanks for the wake up call, it makes perfect sense. As always I love your site!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on April 23, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      You’re very welcome Tishaira! Yes, the whole competitive thing can cause a lot of problems and if you can find ways to avoid it as much as possible it really does help 🙂

  7. Amy on April 23, 2014 at 3:12 AM

    This is SO helpful Kelly! Thank you. My girls do fight, but I know I am lucky that they are generally really good together. What your post has reminded me of though is that I need to not focus on the times when they do fight, but rather on all the times they DON’T. Also, the importance of not setting up competition between them. Thank you, again, for such a great post. x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on April 23, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      So true Amy. We tend to focus on what’s driving us nuts and when everything’s going great we forget to notice! Glad you found it helpful. x

  8. Jana on April 24, 2014 at 1:20 AM

    I’m definitely going to take the school report card idea to heart.

    This seems like a great idea just to stop the competitiveness, yes they have to get used to this in real life, but I suppose it would make the family life and sibling squabbles less and less 🙂

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on April 24, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      Thanks for your lovely comment Jana.

      Yes, life is competitive but I agree that a lack of internal competition within the family unit will ultimately bring more peace and harmony. We could all do with a bit more of that, huh? 😉

  9. […] Ice creams, screens and late bedtimes must be earned in our house. You’ll have a lot more sibling harmony if you spend some one on one time with each child […]

  10. Seana Turner on July 30, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    I always used to do all I could to convince my girls that they were each others’ best friend. I can’t say it always worked, but it did help a bit. I totally agree with #2 as well… I know I was guilty of the comparison thing, even though I meant it in a positive way. I learned the hard way on that one. Now I hardly ever mention the other sister:)

  11. Kelly Pietrangeli on July 30, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Thanks for your great comment Seana. I had to learn how to really bite my tongue with the comparisons too! It really does make a difference though 🙂

  12. Seana Turner on January 26, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    I love your point about avoiding comparisons. It can be hard to do, because we naturally tend toward phrases where we mention behavior we are seeing in other children. But it is so important not to!!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on January 26, 2015 at 6:29 PM

      Yes, super important and I know it’s made a big difference to my boys once we completely stopped. 🙂

  13. […] My younger son is a classic Rebel. sigh. It explains why he and his brother used to fight so incessantly when they were younger. My Upholder child would become outraged when his Rebel brother didn’t follow all rules to the letter. He constantly scolded him, which only made the Rebel rebel more! (You can read about how I finally solved it and they went on to be best friends here.) […]

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