If your children fight and hit each other -- you're not alone. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of families report some physical violence between their children, according to Dr. Ruth Peters, author of "Laying Down the Law." Fighting siblings is one of the most troubling problems for most parents and they often feel helpless to prevent them. Sibling battles can occur as a result of clashing personalities, rivalry, boredom, resentment or jealousy, or to gain your attention. Although you might feel their fighting is out of your control, you can help them develop better social skills.
Step in to stop the fighting and hitting. Separate the siblings, either in the same room or in different areas of your home. Even if there's only verbal abuse without hitting, it's important to immediately stop it to prevent emotional scars, which take even longer to heal than physical scars, according to Dr. William Sears. Keep the siblings separated in their own spaces until they've calmed down to prevent the fighting from starting again.
Encourage your kids to express their reasons for the fight. Listen calmly to each child without assessing blame, which could lead to the ignored child feeling like you're unfairly taking sides. Show empathy with both viewpoints by repeating your kids' feelings. You might say "John, you feel that Tom played your video game without permission" and "Tom, you believe that John gave you permission." By encouraging them to put their angry feelings into civil words rather than acting them out, you're helping them develop better communication skills. Allow them to make up without further intervention. You might say, "You two are old enough to work this out and be friends."
Set ground rules for how you expect your kids to treat each other and the consequences for failing to abide by them. Let them know what's not allowed -- such as hitting, name calling, cursing or treating each other in other disrespectful ways. Spell out the negative consequences if they disobey. It should be the loss of a privilege that's important to the children -- such as TV, cell phone or computer use. You might say, "The next time you two hit each other, there will be no TV for the rest of the night." For a teen, you could ground him for the weekend.
Intervene before the fighting begins, recommends Sears. When you notice one sibling trying to provoke the other into fighting with insults or derogatory language, send him a stern warning look until he stops. Or, offer a calm reminder, such as "Don't put down your little brother" or "We don't speak that way in this family" or "Calling your sister that name is a put-down." This will teach your children where the limit is to unacceptable behavior and to stop it before it escalates into fighting.
Be a positive role model. Children often mirror how their parents deal with conflicts, disagreements and stress. Avoid fighting with your spouse or others in front of your children, even when you're on the telephone. If your kids see you handle conflicts by shouting, using derogatory language, slamming doors or becoming insulting, they'll be more inclined to resolve disagreements in the same dysfunctional manner. Set an example by showing your children how you work out differences through calm conversations. If you demonstrate respect for the other person during disagreements, it's more likely that your children will begin to do the same.
Always praise your kids when they resolve their conflicts and get along. You might say, "It's wonderful how you helped your little brother with his homework" or "It was so nice of you to let your sister play the video game."
If the fighting between your children becomes so severe that they're in danger of physical or emotional harm, seek professional counseling from a mental health professional who works with children.