My two boys, aged nine and 11, fight a lot, often physically. The younger one is domineering. My husband and I are exhausted trying to discipline them.
This is an issue many parents will identify with. Sibling rivalry is quite normal but it can feel like it’s getting out of hand if left unchecked. At its core is usually a rivalry for attention coupled with a sense of jealousy that the other sibling is outdoing them in some way. Age plays a part and so does gender. Your boys are close together in age and this can sometimes heighten tensions. Both being boys, this can also mean that they are more prone to take it to a physical level.
Your boys need the tools to learn how to resolve conflict and manage their feelings more effectively. First, look at how you behave towards them. Parents sometimes make comparisons between their children, and that can fuel the fire. Avoid this at all costs.
You say your younger son is domineering in the relationship. Ask yourself objectively whether you are allowing him too much leeway. Keep a behaviour diary over a week. Talk to your husband and come up with a way to be as observant as possible about how the fights start, who starts them and what the triggers are. This will give you a clearer picture, instead of being drawn into their arguments and feeling like you’ve lost control. It’s vital you both speak as one voice.
Once you have that clarity, it’s time to set ground rules. You and your husband, presenting a united front, explain to your kids that you are exhausted by their endless fighting and that you are going to set boundaries and teach them to manage their behaviour. Let them know you understand that it’s natural for any relationship to encounter conflict at some point, but it’s how that conflict is sorted out that matters. Hold both equally responsible and tell them that there will be a new routine when a fight starts - coming around the table, each party being allowed to have their feelings acknowledged and then moving to a point of repair. Such problem-solving skills will be essential in adulthood.
Beyond this, it’s important to spend time with each child individually, so they both feel they are getting attention. Make sure they know they both have strengths and talents that, while they may not be the same, they are equally appreciated.