Resolving Sibling Conflict

Sibling argumentI usually hear the argument erupt from the next room as the boys revert to their typical pattern of behavior when problem solving skills go out the window. It’s difficult enough to mediate such issues when I see the problem unfold before my eyes, let alone when I have to blindly discern from opposing versions of the same story. What I do know with a great deal of certainty at this point, is that the dynamics involved in the escalation of the current problem are likely the same as those involved in most other sibling disputes in our house. We have older brother flexing his muscles and trying to impose his will, while little one resists being manipulated or manhandled. One resorts to angry yelling while the other’s go-to response is frustrated crying.

Most of the time these boys get along great and are able to figure things out together on their own. For those times that they are not able to successfully problem solve, I have given up trying to get to the bottom of their disputes. Instead, I do the following:

1. Remind them that they both contributed to the problem.

2. Assure them that they are both justified in how they feel, but that they need to find a better way to talk to each other about it. For example, “Tell him what you want without crying (or yelling).” [Read more on Teaching Problem Solving Skills]

3. Require them to do a mundane chore together for 10 minutes, such as clean the baseboards in the bathroom with vinegar and water spray.

Why step 3 you may be wondering?! because it requires them to do something cooperatively with each other rather than work against each other. It also shifts the dynamic from opposing each other to opposing this consequence enforced by me! Finally, this simple solution motivates them to work it out the next time because it’s a better alternative than what will happen if I get involved (wiping down the bathroom)! Best of all, I don’t need to yell or mediate. I simply send them off to their chore!

As far as teaching them a more adaptive way of handling problems, this is important and best done during future situations when a potential problem is arising, rather than after the fact when you really don’t have a clear picture of what happened. Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, the most effective parenting is done by spending time with them, involved in an activity or at least in the same room with them! This allows you to intervene and lend some support if needed without waiting until things get ugly, after it’s too late to suggest good solutions to problems that come up.

What are your positive parenting strategies to deal with sibling conflict?

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2 comments


  1. Oh good question. Sibling rivalry seems to be my biggest headache these days. My kids spend soooo much time together that they are the easiest guinea pigs to try out all their mean and spiteful tactics they won’t use on anyone else because they know they can get away with it. Yet they are also the first at each other’s defense. So, its me whose starting to lose it. I always feel like I start off calm and then as it escalates, my frustration escalates with it and my patience becomes non existent. If I don’t regroup first, how can I expect them too? So, that’s what I do. Breathe deeply, regroup and help them express themselves in calmer tones…and often times, agree to disagree. That’s a life skill in itself.

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