Siblings are sometimes described as best friends and best enemies. Given that they live together and spend a lot of their free time together, it’s understandable that they’ll get on each other’s nerves once in a while. And the pandemic, with all of us spending much more time at home, hasn’t made things any easier. The Child Mind Institute has some tips on how to handle those times when your kids won’t stop fighting.

As the article points out, there is a positive side to sibling squabbles—they provide an opportunity for your kids to learn critical life skills like taking turns, sharing, body autonomy, when to ask an adult for help, and using words rather than force to solve a problem. Here are some key ways to help turn those conflicts into learning opportunities:

  • Get at the Root of the Conflict: While it can sometimes feel like being a boxing referee—splitting the fighters and sending them to their corners—it is important to look for the root of the conflict. Are there any patterns to when they start fighting? Are they looking for parental attention, since starting a fight is a sure way to get a parent to show up?
  • Praise the Positive: Far too often, we focus on telling our kids to stop doing the wrong thing rather than praising them when they are doing the right thing. Start noticing when your kids are playing well together and letting them know you see them doing so (e.g., “I like how you two are sharing that toy.” Or “Great job taking turns!”). Three to five times praising their actions for each time you catch them fighting can start to change their behavior.
  • Make a Plan: No matter how much you praise their good behavior, siblings are still going to fight at times. Plan ahead by working with your kids, especially the older ones, on how to respond properly rather than escalating the conflict and when to come to a parent rather than retaliating. If the conflict is a recurring one (e.g., who gets to drink out of the blue cup at dinner), talk your kids through the process of developing a plan to handle the conflict, such as taking turns or using a timer.
  • Tootle, Don’t Tattle: Parents are all too familiar with tattling, but they may not have heard of tootling—calling out someone for positive behavior. Encourage your kids to tell you when their sibling does something kind, and then make a big deal out of both kids’ actions.
  • If You Take Something Away, Give It Back: Sometimes it just seems easier to take away the thing they are fighting over, and that’s okay. But be sure to give it back and allow them the opportunity to work out a way to share the thing that was the bone of contention. You may need to help them work through to a sharing solution the first few times.
  • Forget Fair: Conflicts sometimes arise between siblings because one is allowed to do or have something that the other is not, and you’ll hear, “That’s not fair!” You can explain why, for example, that the older kid gets to stay up later, but you don’t owe them an explanation for everything. Sometimes, if you have a rule already in place, citing that is sufficient. You can also share how things have sometimes felt unfair in your life and how you learned to deal with it (e.g., a coworker gets more vacation days because they’ve worked at the company longer).

The article also has some additional information on how to handle sibling conflicts if one of them has special needs. Check out the full article to find more details on how to help your kids deal with each other.