Hi Annie. I am a mother of 3 children, a 5 year old girl and twin boys 3 years old and my question is, how do I stop siblings from fighting? They are busy and a hand full on the best of days. But lately, the boys are wrestling and 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 till now. I just can’t make them stop! Any thoughts? Thank you for any advice you might have. Katrina
First, find the instigator
To go back to 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 observer. That means pick a day, preferably two when you can simply watch for who is the real instigator (and believe me there usually is 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. If there around the kitchen, pretend to cook. Keep things simple for the time 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 is 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.
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 up the positive attention levels for all the children. Watch for what they are doing right and 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.
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. The odd romp you could look the other way for but explain the difference. Say that you will put them in time out (3 different mats or chairs…whatever) every time fighting occurs. Tell them it doesn’t matter who started it, all will have time out and stick with it, despite the obvious inconvenience at first. Consistency here is key as they will try you on for size (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,