Dear Doctor,

What can you do to stop three children from fighting? They are close in age. The youngest is a 5-year-old girl. The older two are boys ages 7 and 11. Sometimes they have a good time together, but then trouble starts. I find myself screaming at them, and I don’t want to do that. I have actually broken down and cried, and I don’t want to do that either.

Strung Out

Dear Strung,

Take a deep breath and try to relax. You are where millions upon millions of parents have been before.

Siblings work out position, turf, ownership, and competition for attention and affection. That’s all there is to it. Research indicates they are probably better for it. Through the fighting, they learn when to share, what matters most, and how to negotiate. Only children learn the same thing, but the hard way later in life. One study showed, by the way, that siblings fight 3.6 times an hour. That was the age group of 2 to 4 years, not exactly your situation, but you get my point.

Try some things:

First, discipline for your own mental health: When the fighting becomes intense, do not try to find out who did what. You are not the Supreme Court. Instead put each in a separate environment for a 10-minute “time out.” Make it clear this is not punishment but a time needed to restore order. Then, you get 10 minutes of peace.

Second, anticipate trouble: Be wily. Set times for individual activities. Place toys that inspire fighting away for a day or two. Find “special” things that keep them out of your hair.

Third, do not “break down” in front of them: If a cry is in order, adjourn to a private place and sob quietly until composure returns. Kids need to know you can deal with them.

Finally, where is Dad in all this? Get him into the program to give you some time off.

There are loads of other suggestions, but this will get you started.

Recommended for you