10 Steps to Reducing Sibling Conflict

Published: 17 Oct 2017
10 Steps to Reducing Sibling Conflict

I don’t remember who said it first but the best way to stop sibling rivalry and sibling squabbles is… to not have siblings.

Too late?


Have your children drawn an imaginary (or real) line down the middle of their room or in the back seat of the car and said, “You stay on your side or I’ll tear your arms off!”?

Have you heard your children whine: “He’s touching me!”

“Make him stop looking at me!”

“She’s teasing me!”

“Stop it. I don’t like it! I’m dobbing on you.”

My favourite sibling complaint was shared by a tired, patient dad in a conference I attended years ago. One of his children complained to their mum:

“Mum, he’s breathing my air!”

Kids fight. They drive one another mad. They get in each other’s way.

Parents ask me how to stop it and why it’s happening. My response:

How old were you when you stopped fighting with your siblings?

Many adults confess that they still experience conflict with their siblings even though they’re in their 30’s or 40’s and live 1000kms apart. Christmas dinners are a perfect example.

I love what P. J. O’Rourke said: “Anybody can have one kid – but going from one kid to two is like going from owning a dog to running a zoo.”

With all of this as a backdrop, we need to acknowledge that preventing sibling conflict is almost impossible, but we can do a handful of things to reduce how often it occurs, and how bad it gets. No, you don’t need to buy one of everything for each child. Sharing is part of being in a family. Instead, try these tips...

10 Tips to Reduce Sibling Conflict

  1. Give individual attention to all of your children. It will never be quite equal. But when someone needs it, be there for them. (Remember, girls like to be face to face, boys prefer side by side)
  2. When everyone needs attention and individual triage isn’t possible, either use distraction or do something together.
  3. Be aware of triggers (Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, Tiredness) and intervene early. If the children are tired and hungry, keep them separated if you can!
  4. Make sure the big ones don’t become parents to the little ones. “You’re not the boss of me!” means that someone may be over-exerting their authority and parents need to be more present.
  5. Be clear on your limits. “We are respectful. We speak nicely.”
  6. Avoid smacking. This models aggression and violence to our children. They’re more likely to repeat it.
  7. Teach children to soothe themselves. Staring at the sky, breathing, counting back from 1000 in 3’s… dig a hole in the sandpit to bury your anger, draw your frustration, listen to music. Each of these ideas can help a child relax.
  8. If you can name it you can tame it. If you sense a child is becoming frustrated, name it. This will help them know their emotions are normal and can be dealt with positively.
  9. Teach and model empathy.
  10. Remember that it’s tough being a sibling, especially when you’re young. Older siblings often ridicule and torment younger siblings. This is painful for anyone.

Every parent with more than one child – in fact, every human in a relationship – will experience some form of conflict, particularly with those closest to us. Conflict is not always bad. It allows us to re-examine habits and priorities, and gives us the possibility of progress. But it can be a problem if we don’t use it to improve.

When children fight with one another, stay calm, be clear, show empathy. They’re acting up because of the way that they feel. Help them feel better, and they’ll act better.

Then, invite them to think about how their behaviour is impacting on others. As they see how what they did affected others, you can help them to identify better ways to act towards one another, and slowly move towards making family life happier for everyone.


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