When Siblings Won’t Stop Fighting

Sibling fights seem to erupt more frequently and virulently when ADHD is in the mix. During quarantine, you can guard your family’s wellbeing and your kids’ relationship by squashing squabbles before they start and teaching emotional control, with help from this expert advice. 

All children need four things: your ear, your empathy, your acknowledgment, and special time alone with you. This is how they feel supported and valued by the family. 

In children with ADHD, hyperactivity and lack of impulse control can trigger even more annoying and problematic behaviors such as persistent interrupting, yelling, poking, badgering, and not playing fair, for example. This may be driving everyone in your household nuts at a time when you could really use a break yourself. Siblings often bear the brunt of this behavior. 

Here are some ideas for reducing conflict as a team. 

#1. Give voice to your neurotypical child. 

Giving them a voice and validating their experience can minimize bad feelings. Every day or two, check in with your neurotypical child. Ask them how they’re feeling or what’s bothering them. Attending to their discomfort and allowing them to acknowledge unpleasant feelings helps diminish their stress. It also lets them know they are cared about and noticed, even in their role as the cooperative sibling. 

It also gives you the opportunity to learn what’s hard for them and reassure the child that you love and care about them. 

Always be ready to acknowledge acts of kindness. Saying “thanks for being patient with your brother today” fuels their desire to be helpful and lets them know you are on the same team. 

#2. Avoid activities that usually lead to conflict. 

Suggest some collaborative, rather than competitive, activities they can participate in together such as baking or working on a LEGO project. Ask for their ideas about what would be fun to do together. 

If they do decide to engage in play that may be challenging, anticipate sticky moments in advance and troubleshoot resolutions with each child. You can say for example, “If you play basketball with your brother, what will lead to an argument?” 

#3. Teach kids how to express their feelings rather than become their feelings. 

Emotional regulation can be a struggle for kids with ADHD, so language is important. Ask them to assign a number to their anger (from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest). If they say it’s a 6, ask them what they can do to get their anger to a 4. You can provide solutions like time apart to cool off, a snack break, or a round or two of jumping jacks. Let them know they’ll have to go to their rooms unless they can get their anger under control. 

Create a reward system around this to incentivize the kids and encourage them to continue practicing self-control. I work with a family that puts a marble into a jar every time the child uses the thinking part of the brain to get back in charge. Once the jar is filled up, the child is rewarded with a special toy or activity. 

#4. If your child with ADHD is medicated, consider a temporary adjustment during lock down. 

Everyone’s schedules are different now and a lot of medicines — especially stimulants — are designed to last through the school day. After about 3 p.m., and without after-school activities or sports to take the edge off, sibling battles tend to escalate as the day wears on. 

We’re all starting to suffer from quarantine fatigue, but it won’t last forever. Navigating your family through rough waters requires parental leadership. Strive to anticipate the conflict and avoid it before it erupts into fighting. Also strive to hear and acknowledge difficult emotions, while teaching your child how to practice using their thinking brain to wrest control away from the anger. This is their chance to learn emotional control in a safe and rewarding environment. 

If there’s a silver lining in this pandemic, it’s that spending more time together is an opportunity to practice self-control and experience new ways to play more contentedly together. 

Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.   

More articles on www.MrMizrahi.blog