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How to stop siblings fighting and calm sibling rivalry with six words.

how to stop siblings fighting

Hello and welcome, I am Penny, a former teacher, parenting blogger and co-author of Create Your Own Happy, a creative and interactive book jam packed with activities that boost happiness and a scientific explanation of why they do it, for children and their grown ups.

If you have feuding siblings, you have my full sympathy, read on to find the trick that was the game changer for me.

We all want to know how to stop siblings fighting, I think I’ve found a brilliantly simple trick. Conflict and sibling rivalry is normal and healthy and part of life, you won’t ever stop it completely, but recently we changed one thing about the way we handle fighting and it made a massive difference.

I think you might like to know about this technique too, because it doesn’t involve massive changes to your routine, sticker charts, bribes, money or exhausting days where you don’t see your other half/have a moment’s peace/manage to talk to another adult, because you are hell bent trying to keep the kids apart.

The biggest thing I was doing wrong was jumping in and taking sides. I didn’t even really think I was taking sides, just trying to solve the issue quickly and fairly with my adult wisdom hat on, but what I was actually doing was playing judge. And it was back firing hugely and creating more sibling rivalry. For example…

We picked up my 5yo from a party, he wouldn’t give my 7yo anything from his party bag. So I asked him to, immediately and without realising almost, I had taken sides. So he dug his heels in more and things got nastier. He ate all the cake and the sweets in one gulp (alright well not quite, but it was fast) and he threw the wrapper at my 7yo. She grabbed him by the collar, and they were fighting.

After a bit of googling and reading I saw the error of my ways.

All it takes is six words, ‘How can you make this better?’.

Sounds too simple, but what you are doing is giving kids the chance to sort the problem out for themselves. This is amazingly effective in that it means they learn to problem solve and deal with conflict, you don’t get stuck playing judge and things don’t escalate so fast.

It puts the ball in their court. So when my daughter refused to let my son have a go on her new roller-skates, he started shouting. They were about to start physically fighting, but all I said was, how can you make this better? They both suggested deals, they were both a bit unfair to start, I mediated a bit, but didn’t judge.

Then, as if by magic, they struck a deal they both loved. He got to go up and down, to the lamppost 10 times, but she would give him lessons. It was amazing to watch her help him.

Then a massive storm came, so we ran for shelter together, my 5yo on rollerskates in the middle of me and my 7yo. We laughed so much. When the storm passed he kept skating, on his own this time, through puddles, and my 7yo didn’t ask for them back, instead we just giggled and smiled at the rollerskating ninja.


What works and doesn’t work for you? Have you got any wisdoms on how to stop siblings fighting?


Have you seen the fun book I co wrote with Becky Goddard Hill, packed with activities to boost children’s happiness with a research based explanation of how and why each activity works?

Click the book to order your copy.

For more down to earth updates and simple insights into parentshaped life you can follow me @PennyAlexander_ on Twitter, facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google plus.



  1. 23/07/2014 / 4:07 pm

    Such a simple yet effective solution. I can see how this would work. x

  2. I thought you were going to come up with something like ‘Want to watch the Lego movie?’ but I should have known better – you’re far more sensible than me! Great advice, I will definitely try it, thank you 🙂

    • amy
      27/02/2016 / 10:28 am

      Lol!! I usually use “who wants to eat some candy?” But this idea is much more sensible. And healthier!!!

  3. The Activity Mom
    24/07/2014 / 12:42 am

    So glad I clicked over from pinterest. My two have been arguing all summer and I realize now I’m taking sides as I solve the problem for them. Thanks for the refreshing perspective!

  4. 24/07/2014 / 8:57 am

    Spot on. I recently did an evening course at our local children’s centre and this was one of the things they suggested. Put the ball in their court and see what solutions they come up with themselves – not only does it give them responsibility and problem solving skills, but it also distracts them from the original problem.

  5. 24/07/2014 / 12:05 pm

    Thanks so much for this!! Having just mediated yet another sibling scrap, I need all the help I can get! 😀

  6. 24/07/2014 / 6:13 pm

    I so need to try this, otherwise I will be completely grey by the time September come around

  7. Nikki Thomas
    24/07/2014 / 7:31 pm

    I am so going to try this!! Thank you

  8. Becky
    25/07/2014 / 5:13 am

    Top advice and thats one very cool rollerskating ninja…politicians should listen to you P!

  9. 25/07/2014 / 12:59 pm

    When the boys were smaller, it was “if you are going to fight, fight outside”, that usually stopped it.
    When they got bigger, I usually tried something similar to above. However, as the teens hit and it got very physical at points, I would stand inbetween them (if I could), not saying anything. They would then start acting together, to move me out of the way, but by the time that happened the argument was over.

  10. 25/07/2014 / 8:05 pm

    I love this advice Penny, I am getting a lot of telling tales at the moment which are driving me mad. I must find a solution

  11. Erin
    29/07/2014 / 11:49 pm

    I was going to guess that the six words were, ‘Don’t come out till there’s blood.” That’s what my mom always used to say when we were arguing. But we always knew that if someone did get hurt, we were in a LOT of trouble!

  12. Meg Miller
    06/08/2014 / 5:17 am

    I can see how this would work! When my kiddos have been fighting over something and I make them take turns and time them, they lose interest after one turn each. I can see how letting them mediate it would let them problem solve and distract them. Love it, thanks!

  13. Step
    06/08/2014 / 5:56 am

    Great advice! Although there’s a shorter, more traditional FOUR words for this: ‘Sort it out yourselves!’

    I totally agree that it’s best to avoid intervening. Let kids develop their own skill set and negotiations to solve these issues themselves 🙂

  14. Carolin
    07/08/2014 / 12:12 am

    Short, but sweet. I can really see this working, even in relationships because it really makes you hold on for a minute and think, which can only be a good thing.

    Thanks for linking up with the Monday Parenting Pin It Party x

  15. Jen
    07/08/2014 / 5:51 am

    I too didn’t realize I take sides. And yet again, I feel super mommy guilt just now realizing it and summer being almost over. But tomorrow is a new day and I will try this method. I may have to toss a sticker chart in there to get it to work but by golly, I will try!

  16. Liz S
    07/08/2014 / 3:26 pm

    When my 4 and 6 year old have a spat, I make them sit in the “problem circle”. They have to sit down on the floor together and take turns telling what they think the problem is. It usually takes about 2 minutes and sometimes they don’t even talk about what *I* thought the problem was. When they think they’re done, they get up and go about their business. Sometimes they actually share or work together or whatever and sometimes they just go off and do something else. I think they just like the feeling of validation that having a turn to talk can bring. Also, if any of them (I also have 2 year old twins) are fighting over a toy, I tell them to ask “Can I have that toy when you are done?” and to say, “I will give it to you when I am finished.” They fight way less with NO time limits (“you get two more minutes then it is her turn”) and usually the toy is handed over within a minute anyway.

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  18. tricia
    20/08/2014 / 1:34 am

    Great advice. I highly recommend a really old fashioned parenting book called “Children: the Challenge” by Rudolf Dreikers….it was originally published in 1964 and I have that original version fromm my MIL…it outlines a very similar method…but I really like your tag line…I will be using that! 😉

  19. Alex
    20/08/2014 / 2:24 pm

    This is gold. It also makes life so much easier. Constantly sorting out their issues is beyond tiring. I’ve sometimes felt like I should have done a course in hostage negotiation before having my second child.
    I have one question though: how do you handle it if you have one child who is more likely to give in? My oldest is a very gentle soul and often lets her little brother get away with murder while still being hurt that she always misses out.

  20. shaffizan
    19/12/2014 / 3:51 am

    Start smiling already read your 1st paragraph. Very cute writing

    Yeah, we need to guide them closely how to decide what to do next, or how to settle down their fights. Not enough if just asking them question because they are in “adrenaline mode” right now.

    By the way, glad you found your way Penny.

  21. Ainslie
    18/04/2015 / 10:55 am

    Hi, my problem is my daughter is 4 and very, ehm, strong willed?!

  22. Helen
    13/07/2015 / 11:13 am

    Ahh I’m going to have to try this. Holidays haven’t even begun yet and I can already see the extreme bickering kicking in.

  23. 13/07/2015 / 11:28 am

    I like it! Definitely going to try it with my two who are bickering a lot at the moment, mainly due to end of term exhaustion. I reckon grown-ups could benefit from this too 😉

  24. 13/07/2015 / 11:30 am

    love love love this! So perfect. We do this with almost every thing! We ask “what are YOUR ideas? I beleive we can find a solution” and it works almost every time. We underestimate our children alot.

  25. 13/07/2015 / 12:46 pm

    I love this. Chloe is still a bit young to understand this concept but we say something like what do you think we should do to Izzy and she normally says well she can have a turn but then I want it back so we ensure they take fair turns. Hard at their age but hopefully it will carry on as the years pass by.

  26. 13/07/2015 / 5:53 pm

    Brilliant advice Penny, actually more like a reminder as I’m very much into getting the kids to find solutions to their own problems. But in the heat of the moment sometimes you wind up picking favourites or worse playing piggy in the middle. Will remember to breathe and ask these simple words and hopefully watch a little magic happen! X

  27. Sharon
    01/01/2016 / 4:45 am

    When my boys were younger, I made them sit on the bottom step, hold hands and work it out. I didn’t feel I could interject my opinions into something I knew nothing about. My oldest is 30 yo and is a nurse manager and he often says he wishes he could sit some of his nurses on the “bottom step”

    • parentshaped
      13/01/2016 / 9:56 pm

      Ah that’s a magic story 🙂

  28. 10/02/2016 / 9:59 pm

    Just popped over from pinterest. I couldn’t resist clicking as my girls are driving me batty at the moment fighting with each other. They are so competitive and everything is a battle. I’m going to give this a whirl and see if it helps. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Jenn
    17/03/2016 / 12:00 am

    I read this just an hour ago and immediately tried it, (ample opportunities with a 4 & 6 year old), and it is AMAZINGLY effective! I couldn’t believe how quickly it diffused the situation, and encouraged them to take responsibility for their own actions! Thank you for this!

  30. 21/03/2016 / 5:36 pm

    SO needed this suggestion, after listening to my 5 & 8 year old boys fight it out for one more Saturday and then tending to go with the youngest because the oldest knows better, this will work for us, challenge intellect & not make it about who’s wrong in the situation. Thank you.

  31. Joy
    11/04/2016 / 3:36 pm

    When my daughters were young and were fighting…I said, pretend you knew this was her last day alive…how would you treat her? That worked every time.

  32. kat
    01/08/2016 / 4:50 pm

    Whilst reading this on hols.my 7 yr old would not loan is pencils to his 5 yr old sister.my hubby straight away became judge and I read out this article.as by magic the kids negoiated a deal where she was to use only one pencil at a time.to say we were speechless is an understatement.

    • parentshaped
      10/08/2016 / 7:11 pm

      I am so, so happy to read this, thanks so much for taking the time to tell me. So good to know what I am writing makes a difference, I hope it continues!

  33. Jen
    21/10/2016 / 9:57 pm

    I could have sworn the magic words would be, “We’re going out without your brother.” I had two brothers. I always felt loved, listened to, and less willing to fight with my brothers after getting some time alone with either Mom or Dad.

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