How To Get Siblings To Stop Hitting Each Other

children doing homework

Do your child siblings hit each other when they argue, and do you want tips to get them to stop hitting each other? Here’s some insightful guidance!


by Mikki Stone | Certified Behavioral Specialist and creator of the Ask Mikki column–a Q&A column dedicated to helping parents navigate behavioral issues with their children. You can follow her on Instagram @mikkigaffentstone.

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Confidentiality Notice: All names below have been changed to keep people’s privacy a top priority.


Dear Mikki:

Q. I have two kids. One is 6, one is 4. They won’t share toys and the four-year-old will often hit his big sister. How do I stop him from doing that? When I tell him he can’t hit his sister, he says “well, you do it!”. But we just smack him if everything else fails. How do I tell him it’s different?

Hi JVS,

Thank you for asking the question that I think many parents have their own version of. 

The first thing I am going to say is that I don’t recommend smacking children. Not because I am being judgmental, but because it leads to the kind of difficulties you have now. Let me explain:

It is something many of us will go to if we were raised that way ourselves, but it didn’t honestly help us to “know better” either.

Reasons why spanking isn’t even a last resort:

  • Smacking a child teaches them that it’s okay to hit someone if you are not happy with them or something they did. It sounds like that is what’s happening with your two kids at the moment.
  • The child does not feel totally safe with the adult that hits them. It makes sense if you think about it. A perceived lack of safety affects brain development which shows up in later life.
     
  • To know more about this, please watch the TED talk by Dr. Nadine Burke about ACEs – adverse childhood experiences. It’s a short talk that packs a lot of important information in it.
  • The child learns what not to do in front of the adult that smacks them, or they soon figure out how to not get caught. Either way (and it’s usually both) the child is still doing the behavior you want them to stop, you just don’t see it. Everyone else might though.
  • Which means the child is learning to be sneaky.

They may also relate smacking to being a good reason not to tell the adult things that perhaps the adult needs to know. While that may or may not be a big deal when they are little, it can be a very big thing when they are teenagers!

So I gave you a bunch of reasons “why not to” smack kids, here are a few solutions to try out.

Let’s try to prevent the problem–set some rules about sharing that include when it is okay for either child not to share. Adults don’t always want to share, so it’s not fair to ask kids to do something we don’t do. 

What are your rules? How long must each child wait? Or can you say, “No, she’s not sharing right now.”? What works for your household?

Note: When you first start this new approach, be ready to jump in and stop him from hitting his sister by picking him up or getting in between them (whatever you need to do). Be as neutral as you can be, “Nope, she does not have to share right now. What do you want to do instead? This or This?” Offer him two choices that you know he likes. He can pick one. If he hits his sister anyway, you can move him to another part of the room and tell him to stay there, you’ll be back. Then go and give some attention to your daughter. When she is calm again, go back to your son and remind him of the new rules. Do not give him lots of attention, instead redirect him to an activity away from his sister. 

The behavior can become more frequent before it slows and stops. Be aware of this and be prepared to keep going with the new rules. Follow-through and consistency are hugely important.

This takes planning on your part, but it will be worth it. Your children are young and can learn new rules if the parent(s) are consistent.

Let me know how it goes!

If you or anyone you know has any child behavior questions, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll be sure to respond to you. It’s 100% free and completely confidential.


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