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Ask Sarah: How to Stop Sibling Fights

Struggling with rivalry between siblings? Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet explains how this can be a normal part of child development and how to help the situation.

Ask Sarah: How to Stop Sibling Fights
Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance. Have a question for Sarah? Send us an email at editors@todaysparent.com. Q: How do you stop fights between siblings? I have a four-year-old and two-year-old, the two-year-old seems like the instigator. -Alison, mom of two
two sisters looking angry at eachother

A: I’m going to fill in the blanks in your question as you didn’t give any details. Often when I address sibling fights, my suggestions are all about sibling rivalry.

However in this case, I think your situation is more about normal child development and the nature of toddlers. Usually, when I see fights started by a younger toddler sibling, it’s because they are trying to play with or get the attention of their older sibling.

If your two-year-old doesn’t know how to get their sibling to engage in play in a positive way, they might ‘poke the bear’ to get their big sibling to pay attention to them. After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all. 

Try to talk to your younger child about this. “You wanted your sibling to play you huh? So you pushed them? I get it. What happened though? They got mad? Yeah. That’s tough. That’s not what you wanted to happen, right? What could you do next time? Could you say, “Will you play with me?” 

You want to compassionately reinforce the idea that what they did isn’t going to get them what they were looking for. You’ll likely have to have this conversation lots of times and be prepared to stay within arms reach or ear shot so you can help if needed. 

brother and sister laying on the bed looking angry at eachother
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Another related possibility is that your two-year-old doesn’t want to play with your four-year-old, they just want what their older sibling has or is playing with.  Two-year-olds want what they want.

Try to protect the play space of your four-year-old. You can gate off an area or have them play up higher where your younger child can’t reach. You might need to distract your two-year-old with another activity or redirection from you.

All children need to be able to play undisturbed and that means protecting your older child's play and play space. 

As a general guideline, encourage your four-year-old to sometimes play with their sibling AND make sure to protect their right to play undisturbed. 

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I hope these ideas help to reduce the fights in your house!

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

This article was originally published on Apr 06, 2023

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