Parents of teenagers or preteens may be troubled by the amount of
fighting, both verbal and physical, that goes on between their
children. This is a common problem in homes with adolescents and one
many parents find particularly difficult and upsetting. One
father said, "They are constantly bickering and yelling. There's no
peace in the house anymore. They won't listen to me, and nothing
I do seems to have any effect on them. Why do they hate each other so?"
If parents experience these kinds of problems and concerns, it may help
if they try to gain a better understanding of sibling battles
and then develop a plan for dealing with them in their home.
Why Do They Hate Each Other?
In this society, people have the expectation that they will love and get
along well with everyone in their family. They always expect to
feel positive toward their parents, brothers, sisters, spouse and
children. Most people, however, have at least some times when they
don't feel very loving toward each other.
Relationships within a family are close, both emotionally and
physically, and very intense. When the television show parents have
been looking forward to is being drowned out by the cheerleading
practice in the basement, or when the turkey leg they were saving
for a snack is missing from the refrigerator, or when their spouse is
gleefully telling a crowd of friends how they dented the car
fender, they are not likely to feel loving. Because they are so close,
family members have a greater power than anyone else to make
other members feel angry, sad, confused -- and loving. This is as true
for children and adolescents as it is for adults.
Most siblings have probably been good friends and good enemies as they
have grown. Having a sibling provides an opportunity to
learn to get along with others. Especially when siblings are younger,
they may fight bitterly, but they will probably be playing
together again an hour later.
For example, a child will say something hateful to a sibling, knowing
full well they will still be siblings and friends when the fight is
over. If the same thing was said to a playmate outside the family, that
playmate might take his or her marbles and go home for good.
Thus, children learn from relationships with siblings just how certain
words or actions will affect another person without the fear of
losing the person's friendship.
Why Do They Fight?
Siblings fight for a number of reasons.
Children need not weeks or months but years to learn some of the
socially approved ways to behave in relationships. Lessons about
jealousy, competition, sharing and kindness are difficult to learn, and,
indeed, some adults still haven't learned them.
- They fight because they want a parent's attention, and the parent
has only so much time, attention and patience to give.
- They fight because they are jealous: "He got a new bike. I didn't.
They must love him more than they love me."
- They fight over ordinary teasing which is a way of testing the
effects of behavior and words on another person: "He called me..." "But she called me...first."
- They fight because they are growing up in a competitive society
that teaches them that to win is to be better: "I saw it first." "I beat you to the water."
Adolescents fight for the same reasons younger children fight. But
adolescents are bigger, louder and better equipped physically and
intellectually to hurt and be hurt by words and actions.
From a parent's point of view, they "ought" to be old enough to stop that kind of behavior. What parents may forget is that
adolescents are under pressure from many different directions. Physical
and emotional changes and changes in thinking cause
pressures, as do changing relationships with parents and friends.
Teens may be concerned about real or imagined problems between their
parents. They feel pressure about the future as adults and
about learning to be an adult.
In many ways, teens are in greater need than ever for parental love,
attention and concern and for a belief that they are as good as
their siblings. The adolescent may not recognize these needs or may be
too embarrassed to express them verbally, so fighting with
siblings as a way to get parental attention may actually increase in
In truth, children don't really hate each other, at least not all the
time. As children mature and learn to control their energies and
anxieties, chances are they will be good friends.
What Can Parents Do To Make The Fighting Stop?
Parents can recognize the reasons for the fighting and make up their
minds that they will not tolerate it. It's not easy to stick to that
resolution! However, many parents have found that sticking to that
resolution is the most important factor in bringing peace to their
Parents should tell adolescents that while it's normal to have
disagreements, the constant fighting upsets them and they value
peace at home. They can say they will no longer be the judge and jury
over the siblings' disputes and they will not stand for it! Then,
they must stand by the resolution.
One father reported that every time a fight started, he would say to his
adolescents, "You're fighting. I'm leaving." And then he would
go out to work in the yard or take a drive or run an errand -- but he
simply walked away from the fighting. A mother used a similar
tactic. When the fighting began, she said, "Call me when it's over." Then she went to her bedroom, slamming the door to emphasize
her point. Another parent made his adolescents leave the house when they
In each of these cases, the parents demonstrated that fighting would not
get their attention and they would not get involved in the
fight. Other parents have had success in imposing penalties for
fighting, such as fines deducted from allowances or a certain amount
of grounding for each fighter. These parents are showing adolescents the
cost of fighting is higher than the reward. Whatever tactic
parents use, if they are consistent and stick to their guns, they will
almost certainly be successful in reducing the amount of fighting
between their children.
Living with fighting adolescent siblings is not pleasant. If parents can
remain calm in the face of battling teens, if they can retain their
sense of humor and if they put up a determined and united front, they
will find the war in their living room will end before long.
A Parent's Checklist
As a parent, do you:
- Set aside some time to be alone with each child?
- Recognize that each child is different?
- Make sure your adolescents realize they are each unique and have a
special set of strengths?
- Praise adolescents for being who they are not just for what they
- Avoid initiating competition among children?
- Realize adolescents and younger children need to be given the right
to decide not to share at least some of the time?
- Be sure older children are not usually forced to give in to younger
ones because "he's little" or "she doesn't know better?"
- Talk to the adolescents about their fighting?
- Believe there can be something good in sibling fighting?
To discuss any concerns you have about your teen, call the Parent Line
at 1-800-258-0808 (231-7923 in Fargo).
Adapted for use in North Dakota by DonnaRae Jacobson, family science specialist, NDSU Extension Service, from a publication written by Judith O. Hooper, assistant professor of family studies, University of Wisconsin-Extension. Re-printed from Parenting Pipeline. Used with permission.
Copyright © 1999 The F.U.N. Place. All rights reserved