Mailbag: How Do You Stop the Fighting? (and a liturgical year heads up)

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Mailbag, Parenting, Parenting With Authority | 18 comments

Question: How do you stop the fighting between your kids? What do you do with them? I’ve tried many things like separation, spanking (which I hate but it sure works on my older one!), toys taken away, stickers toward new toy for good behavior, etc. but I get the impression I’m losing the battle. I have no clue how to deal with their fighting. Sometimes I wonder if their personalities are just irreconcilable. 

Answer: This is a problem every family with more than one kid faces. Every. One. So don’t think you’re in this alone. We deal with it almost every day. My boys, especially, are challenged by the prospect of sitting next to one another in the car. Being made to hold up the roof of the van is a pretty effective deterrent in the short term, but so far we haven’t been able to cure them of needing the consequences. We’re still working on it. 

Your girls are still young, but my five and almost three year olds do play together, or at least side by side, for most of the morning while the other kids do school. So, for us, it’s been possible to have kids that age learn to mostly get along. What I try to focus on is creating camaraderie between the kids. 
We remind them that they are on Team Kid and we are on Team Grownup. I want them to feel a bit of “us against them.” Sibling fighting seems to wax and wane around here, sometimes it’s worse than others. In bad times, we separate kids for individual chats with Mom and Dad and actually remind them how important it is to be loving and respectful toward their siblings, because these are the people God has decided to stick them with for their WHOLE LIVES. 

When kids are fighting, I spend almost no time trying to figure out who is at fault. My priority is almost always to set consequences that encourage kids to work things out on their own and to purposefully discourage tattling. Unless something is “dangerous or destructive,” I won’t listen to tattling. Mostly, if kids are fighting, it’s a little bit everyone’s fault, so usually everyone shares in the consequences. If a particular toy is creating unhappiness, I take it. I say, “If that’s going to be a source of sadness, it’s going to go away. Either you can take turns or one of you can find something else to play with, or no one gets it.” One warning, then it happens. If there is general bickering, I say, “I don’t want to listen to you fight. If you can’t get along, you’re both going . . . ” outside, to separate corners, to separate rooms, etc. One warning, then it happens. The point is to create a perception that being together is where the fun happens, and being apart is no fun.

We don’t allow our older kids to just shun each other. They GET to play together, but also they MUST play together. We incentivize it a bit by requiring screen time to be with at least two people. They need to agree on what to watch or play and then be respectful of one another while doing it.

I think it’s a good idea to create a feeling of responsibility in older kids. They need to feel like helping look after younger siblings, and keeping them happy, is their job. Obviously, how easily this works is going to depend a lot on temperaments, but it’s possible. They need to understand that sometimes it’s just in their best interest to let little sister have that thing, because otherwise they’re both going to have to go outside. It builds character. But I also mindfully avoid undermining the older sibling, when they are trying to properly use their bit of authority. So if little sister is crying and big sister says, “I told her if she hit the dog with the recorder again I was going to take it away, and she did, so I did.” Then I’m going to say, “Big sister is right, we don’t hit the dog. I’m going to put this away until you can remember how to play with it.”

I avoid charts and reward systems, because they don’t work for me in the long term. I have had more success with just addressing the issues immediately as they arise. If I were starting from scratch, I’d sit my kids down and say, “Okay, I’ve been noticing that you two are sometime having trouble getting along. This is something that we are going to work hard to change. God made you sisters on purpose and you need to learn to play nicely together. You are the big sister, and you need to look out for your little sister and make sure she has things she likes to play with because she is littler than you. . . . You are the little sister, and you need to listen when your big sister gives you good advice and not be destructive or pesky. If you fight over a toy, I am going to take that toy away to keep you from fighting. If you can’t play nicely together, you’ll sit in corners separately.” Then I would just be really, really consistent about following through with it. Calm but firm, calm but firm, calm but firm.

My kids really do get along pretty darn well, considering that there are a lot of people living here in this house together. We’ve never had anyone physically hurt in anger. But, of course, we each have our own moods and preferences and pet peeves to work through.

In my experience, this isn’t an issue that is “solved.” It’s just something you manage, long term, over the course of your parenting.


And just a quick heads up on upcoming feasts . . .

Tomorrow, October 4th, is St. Francis of Assisi, Frankie’s name day! Many parishes offer a blessing of the animals, but you can also just throw some holy water at your pets at home, and ask St. Francis to ask God to look after them for you.

And next Tuesday, October 7th, Our Lady of the Rosary, is a very popular day at the Tierney house. We always have an edible rosary of some kind. I’ve made a giant cupcake rosary to take to the park and share with other families. (Tracy from A Slice of Smith Life recently shared with me a photo of her awesome donut and donut hole rosary, love it!) But when it’s just us, each kids gets to make and have his own chocolate chip rosary. No stress, no prep, it’s stuff I have in my house, and it’s sweet and memorable without making everyone totally bonkers.

And, from the archives, here’s how we manage a family rosary . . .


Have a lovely weekend!

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or a child psychologist or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


  1. Cristina

    This is very helpful advice but I'm not sure if the idea that this problem is never really "solved" by anyone but simply managed indefinitely is comforting or very, very depressing 🙂

    • Amelia Bentrup

      I think it depends on what you mean by "solved/" It is not reasonable to expect 2 people living in the same house to never fight. Even adults fight. So you can never solve it so they get along perfectly.

      I think the goal is to teach them how to fight "nicly" without yelling, hitting, name-calling, etc.

      We try to encourage out kids to work out their differences on their own. So a lot of times they end up "making deals" (like if you let me use the computer now,I will vacuum for you tonight)., If they are being too annoying we make them go to their room or outside (together usually to .work it out). My kids have never fought to the point of actually hurting each other (but I only have 1 are girls) so I haven't really worried about that.

      If they are being nasty (name-calling/hitting) I do try to sometimes give them alternative of what say. (like instead of calling your brother stupid,say that you frustrated because he can't do x). Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I just can't deal with it and I just send them to their room to duke it out to the death (and since they never hurt each other, no one had died yet.LOL)

    • Kendra

      Yes, what Amelia says! I want my kids to learn the skills of how to deal with people around them. How to handle annoying people and, ideally, how not to be quite so annoying oneself. But we are all works in progress!

  2. Amanda

    How do you help the kids figure out what responsibility they have for younger siblings? My older ones (who are, granted, 4 and 6) think they should control their 3 year old sister. Even when she's not doing anything I would object to. So I have a "you're not in charge of Lucy" policy – but it would be great if they'd stop her from coloring on the walls but not (like very unfortunately happened yesterday) scream swear words at her to turn off the sink. Thoughts?

    Also, totally unrelated, my parish fall festival is tonight and they're serving grilled meats and I'm all – guys! what about canon law that says we should abstain??

    • Kendra

      Our rule is that the big kids have to stop and/or tell a grown up about things that are "dangerous or destructive." But, here, that would include running the faucet (we're in a drought!) but, ideally, of course, without swear words.

      It's a delicate balance. Since my three oldest kids babysit the younger ones, they need to be able to do things like put the little ones in the corner or send them outside, so I back them up on that. They aren't allowed to give spankings or any sort of physical punishments. And they're not supposed to yell. But neither am I. None of us is always successful.

      One of our oft-repeated phrases to all the kids is, "Listen when your brother/sister gives you good advice."

      Having big kids who know how to give guidance and little kids who know how to take it means that I can leave them alone together, and that they can walk home from the park together. It requires a good deal of effort, but for me it's absolutely worth it.

      And we face the same thing at our parish festival each year. People just honestly don't know. But they should. It's crazy. We usually offer a different sacrifice, because the carne asada is amazing. 😉

  3. Tracy Bua Smith

    Oh the fighting, the fighting, the never ending fighting! I enjoyed reading your take on this Kendra! I literally get depressed when I hear how my oldest can't get along with my 6 year old. To say that these 2 have opposite temperaments and personalities is an understatement! I have cried, been impatient, and angry that they "just can't seem to get along"! 9 times out of 10 if they are in the same room together they are fighting within 5 min. OK enough with "confessions of the Smith Household"!

    I love your chocolate chip/M&M rosary. I'm stealing the idea, if you don't mind 🙂 Also, I think I'm "that reader" that showed you a picture of our Donut Rosary for Mary's birthday on Sept. 8 that we make each year with our homeschool group 🙂 Here's my post about it from this year 🙂

    Have a blessed weekend!

    • Tracy Bua Smith

      Hi again Kendra! Thank you so much again for linking back to my blog post with the donut rosary. Just wanted to correct a typo I saw on your post that my blog title is "A Slice of Smith Life" vs. " A Slice of Life" Thanks! 🙂

  4. Kati

    Sometimes when our kids are fighting (ages 6 and 4 in particular), we enforce 30 minutes of "together time" during which they MUST play together at something (not in the same room – actually play together). We send them to the playroom or somewhere separate from the rest of the family and they have to figure it out. If they fight during that time, they get a real consequence, but almost always when we frame it with, "you guys are siblings, and you are best friends, and you are each other's wingmen! You have to show love to each other!" they end up finding some way to play together and compromise. Most often they end up really having fun and we hear them giggling within a few minutes. It's weird but it works!

    (The wingman thing is our way of saying, siblings take care of each other. Just like in Top Gun (which is not a movie we actually let them watch!), you DO NOT LEAVE YOUR WINGMAN!!)

    • Kendra

      "Wingman." That's brilliant. And I agree, it's so important to me that my kids have each other's backs.

    • Kati

      It's a little throwback to husband's 4 years in the Air Force too 🙂 even though Maverick and Goose were in the Navy.

  5. Nanacamille

    All siblings fight at some time or another. I did with my brother and sister and my girls did with each other. When they are little and sweet not so much but as they get older they just DO and there's no getting around it.
    Grandad and I babysat for 6 of the Tierney 7 while mom and dad went to Spain with Lulu for 10 days. While at our house for the weekend no problem… pool and vacation time as usual. Then we headed back up to their house for 8 days of no homeschool but midday computer classes, Little Flowers, Boy Scouts and sports practices and games. These are the best kids in the world said by a proud Nana but there were alternating busy hours with boredom hours since we weren't really on vacation or at Nana & Gdads house. Yes there was sibling fighting and I started sending the boys outside but the temp grew to 95 in the back yard..desert heat. I let them back in and result was piles of boys fighting and sisters crying and Nana yelling. Not good for anyone so I sent them each to different parts of the house and don't leave your spot. Unless I wanted to do room service for meals something needed to happen.They snuck together for a "Family Meeting" of only kids and must have discussed the situation (I only found out about the meeting from Anita 5). It was too cute for words when I said they could come see me in the kitchen. Jack the spokesman said they were all sorry and I said let's play some Wi or a movie inside because it's so hot outside. Success!!! as least for the most part. They were saying, Yes Nana" and I was engaging in some fun activities with them or letting them do some things together that they enjoyed. You can be more lenient as a grandmother than as a mom but sibling fighting is hard on anyone. It was a great time with some great kids but kids always like to test the waters to see how far they can go, They love each other but they also hone their fighting skills on each other.

  6. Tia

    At what age do you start implementing this stuff? With a baby, basically nothing is ever their fault so holding them accountable for "fights" makes no sense, but when do you transition?

    • Kendra

      Yes, Tia. Good point. We have a general, "If the baby wants it, the baby gets it" rule, but that needs to end at some point! For us there is a gradual transition to accountability that happens between nine months and two. Basically, by two I expect them to be following our family rules. But I try to start closer to one to get them used to the idea of not getting everything they want and learned to follow instructions.

  7. Мaria

    You know what, you should put all your little tidbits and strategies and stuff into a book! :] Even if an ebook! Lots of things you mention are things that I used to know and have aonehow forgotten, very common sense.. Many others I wouldn't even have thought of, but still so very common sense..! Good stuff all around. Anyway, just a thought. I'd buy it! :]

  8. Lauren @ Breaking the Mold

    I'm a bit of a Duggar Family fanatic and I have to say that most of what you described here is echoed in "Growing up Duggar," the latest Duggar Family book (primarily written by the 4 oldest daughters). Their emphasis on siblings as best friends and the tools used to instill this attitude is really quite facinating. Might be worth having a look!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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