“I Didn’t Do It!” How to Handle Sibling Fights

Posted July 16, 2012 by

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When helping to curb siblings from their day-to-day arguments, you may find one or both of them denying what you absolutely know they did. Big brother walks past his little brother, and suddenly there is a downspout of tears from the younger. “I didn’t do anything” is often the lie you receive from the bigger, stronger, (or more vindictive) sibling. Particularly since he is obviously still fuming from perceived injustice from earlier in the day.

Understand that you probably won’t  be able to get your child to admit to what he’s done. Try not to get into a power struggle over what’s happened. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Your first inclination is to “make him” admit to what he did by projecting your parental force on to the 4’2” child, but this won’t work. He knows that he has the element of “Mom wasn’t looking” on his side and he will not budge. So, instead, go to the source of why you are sure of what he did. When everyone has calmed down, have a talk with him. Say something like, “When I was growing up and I was mad at my brother for doing x, I would often walk past him and flick his ears.” This could be a good, gentle way to challenge a child’s faulty thinking. The acknowledgment that you felt the same way about your  brother and understand the reasoning behind his actions will ease his mind, knowing that you once did the same thing. (But you already received consequences for it from your parents — now it’s his turn!)

In his mind, of course he should have hit his brother. The action made sense to him. “An eye for an eye” is his thinking pattern. However, you do not want him living by the laws of the jungle. You want him thinking about ways to solve problems and how his actions affect others. What might change because of his actions? His brother may not trust him. His brother may stop playing with him (this will bother some kids). You may not trust them to play alone anymore. Whatever will affect him the most in this situation, make sure he gets it — his actions were wrong.

As a rule, it’s good to talk to your kids about how to solve their issues. Encourage them to talk to you about what they are feeling so you can help them work it out. Teach them to be assertive and ask the other to stop bothering them. Particularly for the older child, teach him to go to another part of the house or to his room for privacy. Be sure to respect this area of the child’s domain. They are siblings and should not be expected to be around each other all the time. In extreme cases of conflict, I would suggest adopting the policy that if both are involved, both receive consequences. Your kids will be forced to work together to avoid consequences — and that can actually help cement a sense of togetherness.

About

Dale Sadler is the author of 28 Days to A Better Marriage and How to Argue with Your Teen & Win. By day he works with middle schoolers and by night he is a family counselor specializing in marriage, parenting and men's issues. He works hard to be the husband and father his family needs. Follow him @DaleSadlerLPC or visit www.DaleSadler.net

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  1. BigDaddy Report

    I made a post on my blog just this week entitled “Finding the culprit” and it’s along the same lines as your post. I sent two kids to their beds to calm down and think about whether they want to spoil their afternoon by fighting.
    As it turns out there was a third sibling involved and I would have missed the boat completely if I hadn’t asked different opinions of what happened.

    Thanks for the post. I always do the man-to-man or man-to-daughter talk after they have calmed down, but I’ll try referring back to my own childhood next time and see how it goes.

    Reply
  2. Ivy Report

    Avoiding the power struggle is really great advice. It’s easy for parents and children to become positional and for fights to escalate when arguing over power. If your goal is to teach a new skill to your child, i.e. problem solving. It’s important to first understand where they are coming from and to work with your child on building self-awareness and new problem solving skills.

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  3. Emily Stevenson Report

    I greatly appreciate your insights with regard to sibling arguments. They are often more destructive than parents perceive. This is excellent guidance, and an eloquent wake up call for many. I am also a therapist and teacher, most important however, I am a parent to 2 young children. I write for the blog: http://forevertogetherfamily.blogspot.com/. Family bonds create the foundation for self esteem and establishing a secure identity. These should be embraced and protected as much as possible. Thank you again for sharing your insights into parenting.

    Reply

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