Question: I have two boys, ages nine and eleven, who are constantly fighting. They bicker and quarrel, hurl insults at each other, and sometimes, I'll admit, they even resort to hitting. I feel so hurt and angry about this. Each time I see them fighting, I feel my blood pressure rising. How can I stop this terrible behavior?

Answer: Fighting between siblings is a natural and normal part of growing up. Through fighting and settling their fights, children learn a lot of important skills for life. With some guidance from us, and through their own trials and errors, children can learn how to compromise with each other, to assert themselves in a respectful way and to say what they want with words instead of with hitting or shouting.

In dealing with our kids fighting, it is important to refrain from getting emotionally involved. Shouting to our children to stop shouting will not lead to the results we desire. But it's hard to keep a calm and neutral voice when we're ourselves feeling bombarded with all sorts of emotions.

What parents can do:

In an emergency, for moments when you feel that your kids have pushed you to the breaking point and you feel ready to explode, the following "first aid care" can help:

  • Take a deep breath and count to ten.
  • Walk away from the scene for a few minutes.
  • Take time for yourself: listen to music, go for a short walk or express your feelings by jotting them down in a diary.

Preventing Sibling Rivalry:

There are many ways to work with your children that will keep sibling rivalry to a minimum. However, those ideas work very well when implemented in calmer moments and over time.

In a home were children feel calm, loved, successful, and capable, sibling rivalry is greatly diminished. These are emotional requirements that every child needs and deserves and are necessaries for them to thrive and develop to an optimal level. As parents, we have the ability and responsibility to imbue each of our children with the feeling that "you count," "you make a difference."

  • A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure. Look for ways to spend quality time with each child, individually. A child whose emotional needs are satisfied is a child who can more easily react in a calm manner in the face of challenges such as a toy being snatched away from him.
  • View each child as an individual. Avoid comparisons and competition.
  • Help your child succeed. Encourage each child to discover their own unique talents and find ways to use and develop them.

Teaching new attitudes:

At a time when the atmosphere in the home is calm and peaceful, the kids are playing nicely, you, the parent, are relaxed, that's a good time to teach our children good middot (character traits), such as:

  • Sharing is caring. A person doesn't feel complete pleasure if he does thing only for and by himself. Your own pleasure is enhanced when you share with others.
  • We don't always have to win. It's okay if someone else to get a chance to win and feel great.
  • We are each a precious child of G‑d. The Torah teaches us to use positive language, to talk to others politely and with love. It is forbidden to cause pain or embarrassment to a fellow Jew - even if he's your younger brother - through teasing, shaming or insulting.
  • We do not have to suffer in silence in the face of hurt. I-messages can help us communicate our feelings when we feel wronged without putting down, accusing, or attacking the other person. For instance, saying “I feel hurt to be spoken to in that way,” is more affective than, “You hurt me, you are such a critic,” which can put siblings on the defensive.
  • Make it clear – through your words and action – that Mom and Dad are here to help.

These tips are not always easy to follow, but view every little step in that direction as the major triumph which it is. There's no greater investment you can make than for peace. Peace is the vessel that holds all the blessings that G‑d showers upon us.