How Do I Stop Siblings From Fighting?

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

Get your parenting advice questions answered at Annie´s Advice Column
Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie. I am a mother of three children, a five-year-old girl and twin three-year-old boys, and my question is, “How do I prevent siblings from fighting?” They are busy and a handful on the best of days. But lately, the boys are wrestling and are now fighting (punching) each other constantly. I don’t know how to stop it. I feel like there is a time and a place for boy wrestling, if you will, but they just won’t stop, no matter where we are! I don’t know what to do. We use the Naughty Mat in our home, and it has been pretty good up until now. I just can’t make them stop! Any thoughts?  Thank you for any advice you might have. Katrina

Hi Katrina,

How do you stop siblings from fighting?

Thanks for writing to me. Here are my thoughts: There will always be a certain amount of “boys will be boys” behaviour, but as you say, this seems to be heading towards the extreme.

How do I stop siblings from fighting? First, find the instigator.

To go back to the basics, kids do things for a reason. In other words, they’re getting some kind of payback from this behaviour. My guess, not knowing your family, would be that they’re getting negative attention, and that’s something that comes up often when I talk to parents through my parent support services. When that happens, it’s always a bit of a catch-22 because, on the one hand, you can’t ignore it and, on the other, attention simply makes it worse.

Here’s what I would do: First, take on the role of an observer. That means choosing a day, preferably two, when you can simply observe who is the true instigator (and believe me, there is usually one). Pretend, and this is key, to be doing something else. Not everyone is a good actor, but try really hard to throw them off the scent that you are watching. If they’re playing in the playroom, pretend to be cleaning. Pretend to cook if someone is in the kitchen. Keep things simple while you do this, order out for food, and get your partner to be home as much as possible to help out. The reason why I suggest this is that knowing who the instigator is will help you become more proactive in preventing fights, as you will be better able to recognize the early signs of trouble.

How do I stop siblings from fighting? Look for the negative attention.

If you go on the assumption that this behaviour is attention-based, consider first how much attention you are offering and then see if it’s positive or negative. Try if you can to increase the positive attention levels for all the children. Watch for what they are doing right and take notice. Make it sincere and notice, for instance, when they are not fighting, even though those periods may be few and far between at first.

One word of warning: kids are very perceptive to the levels of attention paid to each of them. What you want to do here is increase the positive attention for all, not just the major instigator.

How do you stop siblings from fighting? Lastly, state expectations.

Next, at the same time as noticing when they are being good, explain that you will no longer put up with fighting. You could ignore the odd romp, but explain the distinction. Say that you will put them in timeout (3 different mats or chairs, whatever) every time fighting occurs. Tell them it doesn’t matter who started it; all will take time out and stick with it, despite the obvious inconvenience at first. Consistency here is key, as they will try you on for size (a British expression). Be prepared to follow through with any discipline, even if you are out shopping. You’ll probably only need to do it once. Kids pick up things remarkably fast, and they know when you are serious.

If you feel you are being unfair by disciplining both, I understand. However, being confident about who did what to whom on a consistent basis is often more difficult than it sounds. For more parenting help, please check out my services page.

All the best,


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