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Notes to a Montessori Parent. When Siblings Fight - When to Step In?

Otis decorating gingerbread cookie star at How we Montessori

It's almost Christmas and it's the school holidays, are your children fighting yet? For the first time I'm feeling frustrated at my boys fighting. Worst of all they have started to 'bait' or intentionally bother each other. What do you do? What do you step in?

Here are some notes I have made on siblings fighting, when to step in and how to do my best at preventing the fights from starting. 

  • Hands off, wait and see.
  • Do not rush in and 'problem solve'.
  • Stand back and observe for as long as possible. Make notes if possible (or mental notes) about what you have observed. Observe objectively. 
  • Stand back and give the children space, we need to observe to ensure safety but don't hover! 
  • Empower the children to solve their own conflicts, give them the skills they need! 
  • Trust and believe in the children to resolve the issue. Hovering or rushing in tells them we don't believe in them. 
  • Step in if someone is being hurt - physically or emotionally. 
  • Step in when you need to but do so calmly and without bias, be non-judgemental, don't take sides. Be objective. This is hard for me because I immediately want to protect my youngest, so being aware of our emotions is important too.  
  • Remove barriers or areas of conflict - if the kids are consistently fighting over one thing, is it possible to remove it, can you reduce the problem?
  • Be impartial, even if one is the aggressor (or older) - both children need us (and our understanding and support).
  • Children need practice in negotiating and conflict resolution, the home is a safe place to do this. Learning these skills at home will help later in the playground and in the wider world. 
  • At a later time give your child the words they need (or are lacking) to deal with the conflict "Stop I don't like that.", "May I join the game?", "May I have a turn?" for example. 
  • At a later time, when the heat has gone out of the argument and if needed, discuss with the children individually, I do this the most with my eldest, to give him some ideas on how to handle it better or what he can do next time. Give them prompts, ask them what they could do better next time, allow them to come up with the answers.
  • Accept and help your children to process their emotions. Don't deny the child their emotions (don't tell them how to feel), let them know that you are listening, sometimes kids just feel better by telling someone what has happened.
  • Role model good conflict resolution. In our home my husband and I disagree all the time, hopefully, our children can learn from us on how we love, respect and treat each other! 
  • Not all fights can be prevented. 
  • When children feel their needs are being met they are less likely to fight and lash out at each other.
  • Where possible have one on one time with each child. I find this really fills their bucket! I've spent a huge amount of time solo parenting so I know this isn't always possible but I can also really see the difference when it happens. We are currently enjoying Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids (Have you read it? I love this book!).
  • Teach problem-solving skills, this is still very effective for us when the children come to me for help or when they ask for advice to resolve an issue.  

Otis decorating gingerbread cookie stars at How we Montessori

All relationships need work, sibling relationships are no different. So I guess conflict and fighting should be expected and completely normal. It's what we do and how we handle it that can make the difference.

Otis with finished gingerbread cookies at How we Montessori

The boys don't fight over gingerbread cookies. Otis is the baker and always makes sure to bake enough cookies for his brother. So sweet! 

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