Dealing With Sibling Fights

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Eva Amurri Martino offers tips on how to deal with sibling fights.

If you remember our transition from one to two kids, the most shocking aspect (at least for me) was how quickly and adoringly Marlowe took to her little brother.  It was almost as if she was his second Mom from day one.  She’d want to hold him for hours a day, she was so aware of how he was doing or feeling, and when she woke up in the mornings she’d ask for him to snuggle with her in her bed.  Every day! Watching the two of them together literally made my life complete, and I just pushed to the back of my mind any thoughts or questions about what I would do if they one day wouldn’t get along so perfectly.  

But oh how times have changed! LOL.  Ok, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic because the situation is far from dire– but the relationship isn’t just puppies and rainbows and unicorns anymore.  Major is a full-on little kid now, and is just as physically capable as his sister.  He’s also nearly the same size.  They’re currently only 3 pounds apart!  Most of all, though, he has found his own voice in a major (hehe) way.  He knows exactly what he likes and doesn’t like, how he feels, and what he wants to do– and he can tell you.  And this has become a serious issue in the Sister/Brother Love Bubble. 

Eva Amurri Martino offers tips on how to deal with sibling fights.

Whereas before Marlowe was the Big Sister whose brother gazed adoringly at her, cooed and gurgled, and gave her big wet kisses– he now wants to play with the same toys and sometimes doesn’t want to give or get kisses.  And she is having a pretty hard time navigating this new relationship.  They both are.  They’re so close still, so it’s been interesting to see them go from hugging each other and begging to share a bedroom to full on fighting over a toy five minutes later.  Sometimes they almost seem more like twins.  

I’ll hear them chatting away in the next room, and then all of a sudden I’ll hear Major yell “Stop it, Sissy!” And then her yell “You stop it! I’m not gonna even be your best friend anymore!” And then Major gives her the ultimate burn: “BAD. BOY!!!” Then Marlowe runs to me, hysterically crying. It takes every ounce of my self control not to start hysterically laughing.  Major realized recently that calling Marlowe a “Bad Boy” is like her ultimate kryptonite.  I don’t know how it started, but now that he knows it affects her so much he pulls it out in all their worst fights. 

Eva Amurri Martino offers tips on how to deal with sibling fights.

She SOBS when he does it, too, barely catching her breath:  “Mom…I’m not a boy…I’m not even a boy” LOLOLOL.  I mean I truly think he just doesn’t know the word girl.  Ha! I know that sibling rivalry and fighting is such a huge part of long-lasting sibling relationships, and I’m big on letting them work it out on their own.  If one of them runs yelling to me that somebody did whatever bad thing to them, I tell them to say it to the person who hurt them instead of coming right to me.  It’s so important for kids to learn how to articulate their feelings and to know that they are brave enough and important enough to express those feeling right to the source of the pain.  If I see them bickering over a toy, even if one of them is clearly in the wrong, I do my best to hold my tongue and just watch.  More times than not, they end up working it out themselves.  Agreeing to take turns, or even to play with something different instead.  If it looks like they’re going to get physical over a toy, I step in and tell them to find a way to share or I’m taking the toy away from both of them.  

And when things get REALLY bad (like shoving each other kind of bad) I put them in Time Out on opposite sides of the room.  I go to each of them when their time is up and tell them that they are each other’s only sibling, and will always have each other no matter what.  I tell them if they stay best friends they will have the BEST best friend anyone could ever ask for.  And then I remind them that they’re both the only other person in the world who truly knows how annoying it is to have Kyle and I as their parents and they should team up against us instead of splitting up.  LOL.  That always gets a laugh.  

Eva Amurri Martino offers tips on how to deal with sibling fights.

To be honest, it kind of broke my heart when they started fighting, but now I see it as the first opportunity for both of them to overcome conflict and work on interpersonal issues.  Of course I love it the MOST when they have those loving and snuggly moments together…but I have to admit that listening to two kids under 5 hurl toddler-esque insults at each other is comedy GOLD!!!!!

Do your kids fight? If so what is your approach to dealing with it? I’d love to hear in the Comments below!

Eva Amurri Martino offers tips on how to deal with sibling fights.

Photographs by Julia Dags

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  1. Aneta says:

    Loved this post! I have a 4.5 yo girl and a 2 year old boy and holy cow the fighting! Chloe is super bossy and it’s been hard for her to realize that she’s not in charge of Charlie and that he has a mind of his own. I seriously feel like I could have written this post ?

    12.10.18 Reply
  2. Samantha says:

    I had the same exact experience, twice! When I had my middle son, my oldest son was almost 3 and adored him to no end. There was no jealousy or hard transitions, only pure love, cuddles and kisses. It was wonderful. Once my middle turned around 2, the bickering began and it was hard to see. It happened again when I had my youngest. Both older boys just wanted to hold him and love on him constantly. Now that the baby will be 2 next month, there’s bickering between the 3 of them and it’s hard to watch, but I know they’ll soon find a way to work out their relationships!

    12.10.18 Reply
  3. Maria Harrington says:

    Loved your post! For 7 years I taught pre-school and every day I would hear someone say “I won’t be your Best Friend anymore!” … it interesting to see the development of children and their characters. Olivia is 10 months and Lucas whose almost 3 years old takes everything away from her. She is finding her voice and notices that if she screams or cries he will bring something back. He knows he’s bigger and often tried to kick her out of his way, or pick her up and put her somewhere else ? I ask him to use his words and be kind. I can’t wait until I would be able to leave them to play in the same room hehe

    12.10.18 Reply
  4. Jillian says:

    As a mom of 4 strong minded women to be, I deal with lots of interpersonal relationships. Lol I redirect, reteach and laugh.

    12.10.18 Reply
  5. Katie says:

    My kiddos are 4 1/2 yrs apart. And yes in the beginning my daughter was totally into big sister life. She loved being the one who made her brother laugh the most. But then he turned 1 and started getting into things. Then 2 and he could yell back at her. He has always idolized his sister but it’s only recently he has started standing up for himself. He used to get so upset when sissy would shut him out of her room and now he tells her off in his own 5 yr old way. But he also knows how to push her buttons and annoy her so it’s been a lot more of telling him when someone says to stop and no you need to respect that. We do have to tell her to not speak to him so rudely since she is hitting the tween age. We definitely try to let them work it out themselves but the age Gap sometimes makes it a little difficult just because of where their reasoning is mentally.
    It’s so interesting to see them navigate the changing relationship but we also tell them when they are older they will be best friends and they will always need each other.

    12.10.18 Reply
  6. Rebecca says:

    I have four boys (7, 5, 3 and 4 months) and like you Eva, I encourage the team mentality I.e. work together against Mom and dad ! We even have a family cheer. Seriously though, I remind them of how lucky they are to have each other and try to leave them to sort out minor disagreements on their own. When things strat to get out of control, I step in and discipline both with time outs vs. Entertaining the “but he started it.” Both/all get disciplined. I don’t force them to apologize to each other as I want any apology to be sincere. They eventually cool down and hug/kiss each other anyway and go back to being best buddies.

    12.11.18 Reply
  7. Jeni Pearlman says:

    This post struck me immediately. I have 8 year old girl/boy twins and they either absolutely can’t stand each other or are playing so well together my husband and I are scared. LOL! We do the same as you and try to remind them that they only have each other as siblings and that they need to remember that. So far the only thing they shared without fighting about is a womb!

    Love your blog!

    12.12.18 Reply
    • Ha! Omg I’m sure twin fights are on another level!

      12.12.18 Reply
  8. Molliee says:

    My youngest daughter is too little yet for her and my oldest to fight, but my oldest who is almost 4 and my niece (who spend every day together in a nanny share at my house) fight like twins! Literally – they were born 39 hours apart! They will go from being so obsessed with each other that they’re practically making out, to competing and fighting like mortal enemies in seconds! They are bff but the fighting is an every day thing. We usually try to have them work it out, but like you said, sometimes they need to be separated to cool down. The close bond they have formed is so sweet and will last a lifetime though 🙂

    12.14.18 Reply
  9. Meaghan says:

    I have 2 girls: 5 and 2. My eldest is like Marlowe and she just adored her little sister from the moment my belly got big. They play pretty well most of the time, but they do fight. Mainly, my youngest is MEAN. Hahaha. It’s strange, but I find myself encouraging my eldest to stand up for herself. I’m like you and I try to let them hash it out on their own unless i suspect the little one is about to pull hair or hit or throw the toy. It can be quite entertaining at times.

    12.14.18 Reply
    • Oh my gosh, I feel like the younger sibs are totally the scrappy ones! It’s no joke!!!!

      12.15.18 Reply
      • Glenda says:

        Yes yes yes!!! the youngest thinks they can get away with more lol

        04.25.19 Reply
  10. Julie Augostino says:

    Everything you are doing is awesome! My “girls” are now 19 and almost 16, and the fighting NEVER ends! But the love grows and deepens, and they always have each other’s backs. It’s still hilarious, annoying and frustrating, but letting them work it out when they were small gave them their tools.

    Cherish it all and keep laughing! ❤️

    Much love,

    12.15.18 Reply
  11. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the inspiration. I resort to keeping mine separated a lot. Which I know isn’t super helpful so I’m going to try some new strategies.

    12.16.18 Reply
  12. Glenda says:

    Great post! I have a son and daughter. All siblings fight and love on each other. I think it helps them in the outside world to be able to overcome conflict as they grow up. Also, they’ll have each others back for sure! I did the apologize and time out when it got bad, and / or told them figure it out as they got older 10 & 13 and if they couldn’t figure it out go to their own rooms until they can either figure it out or move on from the “petty” fight which it normally was. And 99% of the times they just figured it out and resolved their issue. Always told them to use kind words and to remember at the end of the day they had each other.

    04.25.19 Reply