7 Mistakes Parents Make When Their Kids Are Fighting

Growing up, my sister and I fought about the stupidest stuff, from who'd poked whom harder to who had more room in the back of the car. Now, as a mom, I sympathize with my parents' seemingly doomed efforts to curb these spats, because the fact is that even the most well-intentioned attempts to stop sibling fights almost always backfire. Here's why and some smarter strategies to try.


Mistake #1: Telling your kids in a stern voice to just "stop fighting and get along."

Why it doesn’t work: "It doesn’t teach them how to get along," points out Vicki Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting. And the how is hard, even for adults, so don't expect your kids to just get with the program.

Solution: Give your kid coping strategies and compromises to solve their dilemma. For instance, if they both want to play with the iPad, have them take turns for a half hour, and flip a coin to figure out who gets to go first. Tell them to apply these tactics to other scenarios, and you've just curbed your fight frequency far into the future.

Mistake #2: Picking sides, particularly the younger sibling's just because she is younger and smaller. IE, "Just give it to her. She's only 3!"

Why it doesn't work: "It does work in the moment to end the fight, but your own immediate gratification of ending the fight hurts both kids in the long run," warns Laurie Puhn, J.D. lawyer, couples mediator, author of Fight Less, Love More, and creator of the online Fight Less, Love More couples course. For one, "it teaches the older child to resent the younger one because she has it easy and is the favorite." Meanwhile it teaches the younger one she can tattletale and get her way.

Solution: Focus on fairness and ignore age. "No matter the age, a child should observe that acts have consequences," says Puhn. IE, you take something from someone without permission, then you have to give it back no matter what, even if you're 3 and cute.

Mistake #3: You immediately jump in to break up the fight.

Why it doesn't work: "Parents don’t wind up taking the time to think about what’s really happening, so the problem at hand is never solved," says Hoefle. "It's just postponed until it will meet a bigger blowout. In addition, you tend to assign labels to the kids: The mean one and the victim. This further fractures their relationship so the fighting continues."

two kids fightingSolution: Before jumping in to save the day, stop and think: Is there a simple reason the kids are fighting? Could they just be hungry? Offer an option without engaging in their argument.

Mistake #4: You join in on the bickering.  

Why it doesn’t work: "Kids are often fighting for the attention of the parent," says Hoefle. "Parents can identify that this is happening when the fight seems to always happen around them, follows them around the house, and continues to escalate. This causes the parent to snap and join in on the bickering, providing the attention they were craving."

Solution: Zip it and ignore it. "This is a game changer, because the kids lose sight of how to get you involved," says Hoefle. "Through this dynamic, the fighting has lost its audience, stage, and lighting; therefore, the show cannot go on!"

Mistake #5: You compare your kids to others with "you’re acting like a baby," or "your cousin is younger than you and he is better behaved!"

Why it doesn't work: "Comparisons are the same as hurtful criticism, and they will not motivate your child to make a better choice," says Puhn. "Rather, it would motivate them to stick their feet in the ground, just like an adult would if criticized by being compared to others who are 'better.'"

Solution: With awareness that comparisons are pointless and mean, stop yourself when they start to come out of your mouth. Replace it with the positive side: "I believe in you and I know that you can do better than this. I’ve seen it. I expect more from you. You can do it."

Mistake #6: You yell at your kids, “Stop yelling!”

Why it doesn't work: The hypocrisy is obvious to you and your kids.

Solution: Separate and conquer. "Immediately separate your children into different rooms," suggests Puhn. "Then talk to them one at a time, and encourage them to help come up with a solution."

More from The Stir: Fighting Siblings -- 9 New Ways to Make Them Stop

Mistake #7: Not providing something else for the kids to do other than fight.

Why it doesn't work: Because when kids have nothing else TO DO, they fight. They're bored!

Solution: "This means a greater parenting plan needs to be put in place. Start by including the kids in the conversations about how the day will be organized," says Hoefle. "Make sure that they have plenty to do, and that includes unscheduled time to be creative, think, read, play, or just wander around the house. Activities for the kids are not just the fun ones, but helping with meals, packing cars for school, sporting events, or outings. Kids need to be more involved in real life, which limits their opportunities to fight and refocuses their energy in positive ways."

How do you get your kids to stop fighting?

Images © Jens Nieth/Corbis; ©iStock.com/bowdenimages

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