I have been working with children and families for more than twenty years and I often see parents making the same mistake over and over when it comes to siblings fighting. Parents often feel the need to play police officer, judge and jury and get themselves in a place they really shouldn’t be. Children will squabble and argue and that is natural. It should only become a problem for parents when it gets physical. Other than that parents should do their best not to intervene and let their children try to develop their problem solving skills.
Many parents respond to kids behavior problems by getting overly emotional and reacting strongly to the behavior they don’t like. Unfortunately, this often reinforces the behavior because children will do things that get attention, negative or positive. When young kids are fighting the best response is a quick and certain time out for both combatants. Try not to take sides and do your best to simply announce the time out and that it is for fighting. Anything else will not be helpful. Let them serve the time out and then let them try to start again. Sometimes it can take as many as thirty or more time outs for kids to really figure out that this whole fighting thing isn’t worth it.
One other thing that works well is to notice and acknowledge your kids when they are cooperating and playing peacefully. They need to learn to get attention for doing positive things too. Sometimes this will backfire at first as they appear to think hey she’s right we’re getting along, we better fight soon. Don’t worry that is normal. Just stick with the time outs and encourage the behavior you want. Of all the kids behavior problems that parents see, this one requires a lot of persistence and patience to correct. However, if you are consistent, calm, patient and persistent you will notice a difference over time.