How to Deal with Violent Sibling Rivalry

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My 5 and 7 year olds have very serious case of sibling rivalry going on: kicking, hitting, and biting each other when they don’t get their way. I really don’t know what to do.
–Marcy, Canton, Ohio


Dear Marcy,

If your kids are getting so far into their negative behaviors that they are biting, kicking, etcetera, there needs to be some higher standards set, earlier interventions, and closer monitoring. So here’s how I would set myself up for success. After apologizing to both of my kids for being unclear about expectations in the past, I would make this simple enforceable statement:

Kid Whisperer: I allow kids who are being pleasant to remain with the family.

At this point I hang out within earshot of the little demons, fully aware that they are about to be unpleasant with each other.

Kid #1: Guess what?

Kid #2: What?

Kid #1: I’m going to punch you in your stupid face. That’s what.

Kid Whisperer (entering the room): Oh, man. This is sad. Kid #1, I am going to have to do something about this later. For now, I want you to go to your room. Come back as soon as you think you can be pleasant.

I repeat this process with both kids when they are abusive to each other. Whenever I tire of asking kids to go to their rooms, I simply say:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man, I’m really tired of this. You both don’t seem to know how to be around each other. You will be spending the rest of the night in your rooms. Feel free to stay in your rooms with the doors unlocked as long as you can manage to not leave your rooms. (I have put locks on the outside of their doors and made sure that the interiors of their rooms are totally safe for tantrum-throwing).

Almost feeling guilty that this is what I wanted to happen all along, I proceed to put my feet up, watch a movie, and have a snack.

Sometime the next day, I have the following conversation with both Kids:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. You guys really don’t know how to be around each other yet. I am worried that you will embarrass our family with your fighting when we go into public. Therefore, you aren’t going to go into public anymore except when I take you to school until you can show us that you can get along inside the house.  I am going to give you lots of time to prove to us that you can handle being nice to each other here in the house so that we may eventually be able to leave the house as a family. On Friday, your dad and I will be going out to a movie while you practice being nice to each other here at the house. The babysitter will give us a report. We love you and we know that you guys can work this out for yourselves.

Kid #1: How long will we have to be nice to each other before we can go into public?

Kid Whisperer: I guess we’ll have to see.

Note: If a miracle occurs, and Kid #2 never acts out against Kid #1, then only Kid #1 gets the consequence.

Have fun with this, and let me know how it goes!