Why Siblings Fight and What To Do About It

By Greg Baer M.D.

January 17, 2023

In most magazine lists of “Top Ten Annoying Things Kids Do,” you will find “Siblings Fighting” or “Kids Fighting” or “Sibling Rivalry.”

Although almost all families with two or more children experience this (98%), and although it tends to be quite distracting—even annoying—most families blow it off:

            “Oh, those kids.”

            “Yeah, kids just do that.”

            “Hey, you guys stop that.” (followed by no parental action at all)

But uncounted scientific studies have proven that the brains of young children are forming rapidly and are affected by everything around them.

When children fight, one or both children are being ASSAULTED—verbally, emotionally, and often physically—in the one environment where they should feel safe.

But they don’t, because in many families such conflicts occur as often as eight times per HOUR—or essentially the fighting never stops when the two kids are in the same room.

53% of children report fighting to the point of abuse, and such children have a much higher incidence of later anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, and addictive and self-destructive behaviors.

And yet we keep ignoring behaviors between children that would lead to criminal charges if adults behaved that way. Sibling abuse is the most common—and most accepted—form of domestic abuse.

Simple “put downs” can be devastating to a child, screaming the message, “You don’t matter,” which has profound effects on children’s understanding of WHO THEY ARE. This affects everything a child feels, thinks, and does.

Why Siblings Fight All the Time

Until you can answer this question, you will alternate between ignoring and trying to control the fighting—both of which allow your children to be damaged by the assaults. And almost no experts can answer this question.

We cannot understand children fighting until we first understand that what we all need more than anything is to feel LOVED.

As proven by many studies, love is THE ingredient necessary for happiness, and without it we ARE in pain. We feel small and helpless, and we HATE that. So do our children, who are damaged by it.

Eventually we erupt into anger, and THAT is why children fight—to briefly feel less helpless as they get the emotional “hit” of power.

Our children are in pain because they don’t feel sufficiently loved BY US. Yes, I know you love your children as well as you can, but you were not given the KIND of love YOU needed as a child, so you don’t have it to give.

What we all need is UNCONDITIONAL love, or Real Love®, which means to care about another person without any thought for something in return.

There is no disappointment or irritation in Real Love. You didn’t get that, so you don’t have it to give your children. How do I know?

Remember in your childhood how many times:

  • your parents or others rolled their eyes at your mistakes.
  • they criticized your performance, especially with a “tone.”
  • they told you they were disappointed in you—with their words, their facial expression.
  • you just needed to talk to someone, but there was no one there.

Every time we were not unconditionally loved—whether aggressively or by simple neglect—we FELT the message, “I don’t love you.” Really. It was like being poked with a sharp stick.

Early on, we put up with that, but eventually we cannot tolerate the pain of our parents’ disappointment and anger, so we WILL respond with behaviors to protect ourselves. It is the same with our children, and that’s why they fight.

To be plain: the reason your children fight is that you simply were not loved unconditionally yourself, and now you don’t know how to give that lifegiving ingredient to your children.

Who would have thought? And yes, you’re doing your best, but your disappointment, irritation, and un-involvement with your child—which happen much more often than you might think—are crushing to your child’s sense of worth. Do not feel guilty here. It all began with the love you did not get yourself.

Take the first step right now. Say out loud these words: “The reason my children fight is MY disappointment, irritation, or lack of involvement, which prove that I simply don’t know how to love my child unconditionally.” 

Yes, ouch, but now we can talk about truly effective solutions.

Where Does Sibling Rivalry Come From?

“Rivalry” is a competition BETWEEN children for something they both want. But this is NOT primarily what is going on when children fight, even though that’s how it looks when their words and actions indicate that they’re both fighting for a toy, a game, a privilege.

No, what they’re really doing is reacting to their PAIN, the pain of not feeling sufficiently loved by YOU. They fight with each other because the power difference between them is smaller than between one of them and you.

But think about it. They fight with YOU too—arguing, resisting, acting sullen, slowly responding to instructions, and more. It’s ALL a response to pain.

They must get a feeling of power somewhere—from you or from a sibling—and that’s what fighting is all about.

The bottom line is that the term “sibling rivalry” completely misses the point. Their fighting is not a competition. It’s a cry for YOUR love, and we’re getting to what you can do about that.

Siblings Fighting for Attention

When children fight, parents often say, “Oh, they’re just fighting for attention”—from each other and from the parent.

NO, wrong. They’re not fighting for the superficial, fleeting feeling of “attention.” They are screaming to be genuinely loved, but of course they don’t realize that they’re doing that, because they don’t know that unconditional love even exists.

How tragic is it that our children are screaming for what they need most, but they don’t know it, and we parents don’t realize it either? Yikes.

Our children NEED Real Love®, but they SETTLE for attention of any kind. So they fight with each other, but eventually that’s not enough, so they withdraw into games and their phones, they become depressed, they use drugs, they have suicidal thoughts.

If you don’t do something definitive to eliminate their fighting—not just decrease it—the day will come when you’ll wish for the times they only “fought for attention,” as opposed to the increasingly serious behaviors above.

Are Sibling Fights Normal?

Studies demonstrate that about 90% of drivers regularly exceed the speed limit, with half of them driving more than 15 miles per hour over the limit—this despite SPEED being the greatest single factor contributing to driving accidents and fatalities. If 90% of people do a thing, that thing becomes NORMAL, or average. But we all know that speeding isn’t good or healthy, don’t we?

So “normal” is not the same as good or healthy, and our children fighting, while normal, is also very damaging. The more children fight, the more they develop:

  • anxiety disorders and low self-esteem
  • addictive and self-destructive behaviors
  • difficulty sleeping
  • symptoms of ADHD
  • poor school performance
  • vague physical ailments
  • depression, cutting, suicidal thoughts

Children fighting often causes a kind of PTSD that continues into adulthood, causing anxiety, depression, relationship problems, loss of focus and meaning, high blood pressure, headaches, irritability, and more.

What Can I Do about Siblings Fighting?

Yeah, this is the big question, isn’t it? You’re looking for a cute list of steps to take, preferably with colorful graphics.

No, children fight because of a lack of unconditional love, which you simply don’t know how to give.

Hoping for a quick solution here is like hoping to learn the piano in thirty minutes or hoping that if you throw the ball around for a bit, they’ll invite you to play in the Super Bowl.

In the Ridiculously Effective Parenting Training, you will learn how you can completely eliminate disappointment and anger from your life, after which you can learn how to unconditionally love your children. THAT is the solution to children fighting.

I have learned over thirty years of experience that it WORKS, but it also requires humility and work on your part.

There are no easy or quick solutions. BUT there is a solution.

I promise you that children who feel loved simply do not fight with each other. I know this. They don’t argue. They don’t feel threatened by each other. They don’t feel jealous or competitive.

Why? Because they have ENOUGH of what they need most—the love of their parents. They have ENOUGH Real Love® from their parents, and THAT is the key word: enough. Once you feel enough unconditional love, there is no competition or rivalry.

Your problems—and your child’s problems—were created over many years. How fortunate it is that solving these problems doesn’t have to take nearly that long.

Change takes focus and practice, but loving is certainly not more difficult than the way you and your children are living now, with all the conflict and unhappiness tormenting both of you.

As you learn to be loving, you will feel so much happier yourself.

You will enjoy the privilege of watching your children naturally and freely acquire the self-worth and confidence that eliminate  fighting.

You will experience the peace of a loving home, the confidence of a loving parent, and the joy of raising loving children.

What could possibly be better?

Want to learn how?

 Start today to eliminate fighting and arguing with siblings.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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