Question: Our two boys, ages 7 and 9, are constantly fighting. The only thing that works is to separate them — my wife is with one, and I take the other. It's driving us nuts. Do you have any suggestions?
Mark Brandenburg replies: Siblings will naturally vie for their parents’ attention, and fighting will be a part of that. It is completely normal. The problem with separating them too much is that they won't learn some of the skills that will help them to get along in the future.
They’ll need to be able to work things out on their own. Also, be aware of whether you "jump in" to stop the fight. This attention is one of the things that fuels the fighting.
Try to "train" your kids individually when they're in a receptive state. Talk to each of them about some of the choices he has when his brother bothers him. He can walk away, use words, ignore his brother, etc. Tell him how important it is in your family to be peaceful with each other.
When they make even the slightest progress to get along better, acknowledge it and let them know specifically what a great job they did. When they fight, ignore them and don't take sides —you'll just train them to be victims or perpetrators.
The last important piece is how you handle your own frustrations when they fight. The more upset you get, the more likely the fighting will continue!
© Mark Brandenburg
Mark Brandenburg, MA, CPCC, CSC, is an author, speaker and certified relationship coach. He has worked with individuals, teams and families to improve their lives for more than 20 years. He is the author of a number of books for men, including 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers. Mark coaches parents from around the country through weekly telephone coaching sessions on balancing their lives and improving their parenting. He runs workshops and gives presentations for fathers and for parents that are enthusiastically received, as well as teleclasses for parents at MarkBrandenburg.com.