Why are my kids always fighting?

It's annoying, but sibling conflict is normal and necessary for development

Parenting Commentator / July 18 2018

It’s nearing the end of the school holidays and it feels like the children have spent the whole time fighting with each other. "It’s my turn on the PlayStation!" "He stole my chocolate!" "She hit me!"

But is the rivalry between your kids as bad as you think or are you simply attuned to every squabble and shriek?

Well, it seems kids do argue a lot, with researchers from the University of Toronto revealing that children aged two to four engage in an average of 6.3 fights per hour – or one every 9.5 minutes. Fortunately, the rate declines in the three-to-seven age group, with 3.5 conflicts an hour.

So how do you know if your kids are going to take after the Hemsworth brothers – who are each other’s best mates – or The Jonas Brothers, who cancelled their tour in 2013 because the trio fell out? Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect, believes that conflict is a good and necessary part of growing up.

"Our brothers and sisters teach us about comradeship and combat, loyalty and rivalry, when to stand up for ourselves and when to stand down, how to share confidences and the wages of breaking them," he says. Our interactions with our siblings teach us how to avoid and resolve conflict in an environment where people can’t leave. What you learn as you quibble in the sandpit or decide who should stack the dishwasher will be invaluable in future relationships with spouses and co-workers.

While some siblings take their grievances into adulthood – I know of a pair of brothers who growing up couldn’t travel in the back seat of the car together – most learn how to manage their differences.

So should parents step in or leave kids to sort out their own problems? Studies show that when parents mediate, there’s less chance of negotiations breaking down and physical fighting. However, according to Kluger, when parents impose a solution, it’s less likely to stick. Siblings who are left to settle their own differences are more likely to reach a lasting solution, he says.

He also points out that siblings can influence each other on risky behaviour, teach each other about the opposite sex and learn about status through the minefield of birth order. As he says, the sibling bond is "a dress rehearsal for life".

I grew up in New Zealand, moved to London in my early 20s to work on British newspapers then moved to Australia when I was pregnant with my first child. I write a newspaper column, celebrity interviews and a parenting page. I also do TV and radio commentary, podcasting and host corporate events. I’ve also published a book on parenting, The Smallest Things. However, my greatest role ­­– and the one I’m most proud of – is parenting my daughters, Eliza and Lilibelle, who are 17 and 14.