Sibling Relationship - Teach Our Kids to Resolve Conflict Peacefully
By Michael Grose
After 18 years of working with parents and families I have finally
worked out the cause of sibling fighting.
Having more than one child.
Sibling fighting tends to come with the parenting territory. It is
born from rivalry or competitiveness between siblings and shows
itself through mindless arguments, noisy squabbles, physical means,
verbal put-downs and even long silences.
Kids have L plates on when it comes to resolving conflict with their
siblings. They can learn better ways of resolving conflict than
resorting to reflexive means such as hitting, shouting and generally
playing the person rather than the "ball".
The key is to help children focus on the problem not their sibling.
As a parent it is difficult to know how to respond when kids
squabble, fight or argue. Do I ignore the squabble or do I become
involved? Good question.
Bear it (if you are a saint you maybe able to
Beat it (go elsewhere when they fight) and
Boot them out (noisy disputes are best settled
outside) come from the let-them-work-it-out-themselves school of
There is a time and place for this approach.
But kids also at times regardless of their age need some positive
parental input into resolving issues. Here are some ideas for you to
- Focus on emotions first. Emotional
containment is a priority here. Get kids to calm down before you
help them work their problems. This may mean they sit for a while
on their own or go outside and let off steam physically. Once
emotions are contained then you can get down to business.
- Focus on the problem not the fight. Kids will
want parents to punish their sibling for beginning a dispute or
infringing on their rights. Drill down onto the issue (e.g. a
better way of watching TV, sharing toys or whatever) and focus on
resolving that. Direct children to focus on the issue not the
- Listen to their story. Kids generally want to
be heard so listen to their side of the story and again, try
focusing on how they feel about it. Give their emotions a name or
label. "It sounds like you are pretty angry about it. Would I be
right?" Sometimes this is enough to get a resolution to an issue.
"Okay you can play with my old toys but I don't want you
playing with my new toys for a while. They're special." "Okay."
- State the problem as you see it. When kids
are stuck tell the problem as you see it. Try to develop a sense
of 'other' here by showing how a child's behavior affected his or
her sibling, without using shaming or blaming. If you can
brainstorm a solution so be it. Otherwise they can agree to
disagree and stay clear of each other.
- Restore the relationship. Keep the
relationship as the focus rather than focusing on the problem.
With young children the issue they were fighting about is
generally long-gone by the time a parent intervenes. An apology, a
hug, a joint treat (and no I am not suggesting rewarding poor
behavior ) or redirecting kids' attention elsewhere are some ways
to help restore the relationship between the kids.
Conflict resolution sounds easy on paper but it is hard to do in
practice. Helping children resolve disputes is one of life's most
difficult tasks – ask any teacher and they will tell you playground
squabbles are the hardest things to deal with. (Not to mention the
Be smart. Choose your times to help kids out. Don't respond
reflexively to kids' telling tales or you will soon join in the
sibling dance. Look for opportunities to help children to resolve
disputes by focusing on the problem, not the person.
Oh, and don't forget to model good conflict resolution yourself.
Your kids are watching and learning from you!
Michael Grose is a popular parenting educator and parent
coach. He is the director of Parentingideas, the author of seven
books for parents and a popular presenter who speaks to audiences in
Australia, Singapore and the USA. For ideas and resources to help
deal with sibling fighting and other behaviour issues visit