Ask Sarah: How to Stop Sibling Fights

A: I’m going to fill in the blanks in your question as you didn’t give any details. Often when I address sibling fights, my suggestions are all about sibling rivalry.

However in this case, I think your situation is more about normal child development and the nature of toddlers! Usually when I see fights started by a younger toddler sibling, it’s because they are trying to play with or get the attention of their older sibling.

If your two-year-old doesn’t know how to get their sibling to engage in play in a positive way, they might ‘poke the bear’ to get big sibling to pay attention to them. After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all! 

Try to talk to your younger child about this. “You wanted your sibling to play you huh? So you pushed them? I get it. What happened though? They got mad? Yeah! That’s tough! That’s not what you wanted to happen, right? What could you do next time?

Could you say, “Will you play with me?”  You want to compassionately reinforce the idea that what they did isn’t going to get them what they were looking for.

You’ll likely have to have this conversation lots of times and be prepared to stay within arms reach or ear shot so you can help if needed. 

Another related possibility is that your two-year-old doesn’t want to play with your four-year-old, they just want what their older sibling has or is playing with.  Two-year-olds want what they want!

Try to protect the play space of your four-year-old. You can gate off an area or have them play up higher where your younger child can’t reach. You might need to distract your two-year-old with another activity or redirection from you.

All children need to be able to play undisturbed and that means protecting your older child’s play and play space. 

As a general guideline, encourage your four-year-old to sometimes play with their sibling AND make sure to protect their right to play undisturbed. 

I hope these ideas help to reduce the fights in your house!

Read More from our Ask Sarah Series:

Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

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