Kids fighting and what to do about it

As with my last post, the topic today is inspired by feedback from the blog annual survey. With the exception of single child families, I don’t know any families who don’t experience fighting kids.

In the section of the survey where I asked readers if they had a question for me,  lots of them asked about how I dealt with kids fighting. I wrote the below in my weekly newsletter back in October, but I realise not everyone subscribes to the newsletter (you can sign up here if you would like to), so have decided to publish it here as well. It also makes it easier to find again if you wish to revisit it.


In the scheme of things, our five kids get along pretty well. They do however fight, drive each other crazy and as a consequence sometimes drive me crazy!

Why are they fighting?

Sibling fighting is just as much a part of family life as the fun parts are. Too much fighting however to me is a sign that something isn’t right. Our family goes through times when I think there is too much fighting. When it gets to this point, I find the most important thing I can do is to spend sometime analysing why this is happening. Here are some questions I consider in looking at why the fighting is happening:
  • Is it happening at a similar time each day?
  • What is the pace of family life like?
  • How well and rested are the children?
  • Is it connected to a particular activity?
  • How much outside time have the kids had?
  • How much time have I been spending playing/bonding with the kids?
  • How much time have the kids had apart recently?
  • Are any of the kids going through a challenging stage (eg 3.5 year old etc )?
  • Have I been asking too much of the older children?
  • Have I been too lenient on the younger kids?
  • What has my tone and attitude been like?

Long term solutions

More often than not, I will find a root cause to the fighting in my answers. This does not excuse their behaviour, but it allows me to implement strategies to reduce the fighting. It can be as simple as:
  • If it is happening at the same time each day – tweak the routine. The teenager has hit the stage of life where getting up in the morning is hard. We have expected the kids from upper primary and secondary to get themselves up in the morning. The teenager however was getting up too late, then would be in a bad mood rushing and causing issues with all the other kids. For the time being now, if he isn’t up by a certain time, I will wake him up to prevent the impact he has on the house when he is grumpy.
  • If family life has been too busy – setting aside a weekend with minimal activities outside of the house so the kids can have more rest and spend time just pottering and doing the things they want to do.
  • If the kids have cabin fever – do something together outside of the home. Generally an activity that gets everyone moving. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just provide a change of scenery. One activity that works well for us is to take the dog to a dog park with a nature trail.
  • If it is connected to a particular activity – I find the behaviour of a couple of the kids deteriorates after longer sessions on technology at certain times. When this is happening, I will ensure that they have something specific to do once the technology session is up. For example, before starting I will let them know as soon as they finish they need to walk the dog or do the vacuuming.
  • If I haven’t been spending enough time playing with the kids – it is always evident when I haven’t been engaging closely with the kids in activities they like. They are far more whiney and needy and seem to get on each others’ nerve much more easily. Once I notice this, I will instigate 20 minute sessions with the kids (you can read more about this and why it works here) and it makes a huge difference to family harmony.
  • If the kids haven’t had time apart recently – orchestrate it so there is more space for time apart. For example I might take the older two out shopping and dad might work out in the garden with the younger three. Sometimes this happens naturally, but other times you need to organise it so they aren’t all together all of the time.
  • If one of the kids is going through a challenging stage – I will spend some time chatting and explaining this to the kids and give them strategies to deal with their behaviour. For example the 5.5 year old is prone to bursting into tears when things aren’t going the way he wants. Instead of getting frustrated at him, I encourage the kids to ask him to tell them what the problem is without crying. If they can’t work out what the problem is from what he is saying, they should come and get me.
  • If I have been asking too much of the older children – back off. Don’t say to them that as they are older, I expect more of them when there is a fight between a younger and older child. This inflames their sense of injustice and creates more animosity.
  • If I have been too lenient on the younger kids – sometimes it is easier to ask the older kids to conceded to keep the peace. This can work as a once off strategy, but long term like the above, it creates animosity amongst the kids and causes more fights. I need to remember to stay consistent.
  • If my tone and attitude has been off – stop it! Improve it and set the example I want to see in the kids, that is more patience and tolerance, raising issues but doing so in a respectful manner and work on being a good person to be around.

Quick fix solutions

The above solutions are aimed at preventing systemic fighting amongst the kids. Even if you have all of that going pretty well, the kids will still fight so having strategies to solve the problems at the time up your sleeve is very helpful. Please remember that I am not a psychologist or counsellor or child behaviour expert. What I have listed below are some strategies that have worked for us:

  • Work on a mutual solution – guide them through the process on creating a solution that works for both children.
  • Ask a child for a solution – if one child is having a particularly difficult day, ask them for a solution in how we can change the way things are going. Acknowledge that they seem to be having a tough day and ask if there is anything I can do to help. Often they won’t give much in response, but the acknowledgment in a kind and caring manner can help them feel not like they are in trouble, but that you really want to help them. Often this can be enough to change their behaviour.
  • Intervene before it explodes – sometimes I can sense the tension is rising and there is disharmony amongst the kids. I will try and create a circuit breaker/distraction of sorts to prevent it from escalating any further. This could be putting on an audio book, putting on their favourite music, starting a game or making it morning tea time!
  • Separation by activity – if there has been a number of flare ups, I will direct kids to different areas of the house and different activities.
  • Act of violence job – my kids will unfortunately hit and physically hurt each other on occasion. We have talked in depth and frequently about how this is an unacceptable way to solve a problem, but it still happens. The child who hits is given a household task which will take up about 15 minutes or so of their time like folding the washing. This does two things – makes them work and think about what they have done and it separates them from their siblings.
  • Last man in rule – just like in ice hockey, the kids know if I see someone hurting another child, even if it is retaliation, that person will have to undertake the act of violence job. I really want the kids to understand that violence is not acceptable at all. If they have been hit, they can come to me to deal with, rather than use violence to stop violence.
  • Provocation job – if one child is deliberating and significantly provoking other children to get a response (like provoking them to hit them so they have to do an aforementioned act of violence job) they will be given a household task to complete. This is a smaller task than act of violence, something like emptying the dishwasher or tidying up the lounge room.
  • Get them active – if one child is being particularly challenging I will get them to take the dog for a walk, come for a run with me or go on a run on their own – literally to run off some of their steam!
  • Encourage them to stay with me – again if one child appears to causing most of the grief, I will encourage them to hang out with me and do whatever I am doing and engage them in conversation. This is different to the tasks I set them in the above examples. This is more about creating a point of reconnection with the child and attempting to alter their current mood.
  • Remove the ball/bat/book etc – if the arguments are over an item. I will take it and let them know when they can play with it without argument they can come and get it from me.

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