Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Search This Site

Resolving Sibling Conflict: Tips for Stressed Parents

Sibling conflict is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters.  It is a concern for almost all moms and dads of two or more children. Problems often start right after the birth of the second youngster. 

Sibling conflict usually continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to moms and dads.  There are lots of things parents can do to help their children get along better and work through sibling rivalry in positive ways.

There are many factors that contribute to sibling conflict:

• Kids feel they are getting unequal amounts of your attention, discipline, and responsiveness.

• Kids may feel their relationship with their moms and dads is threatened by the arrival of a new baby.

• Kids may not know positive ways to get attention from or start playful activities with a brother or sister, so they pick fights instead.

• Kids often fight more in families where moms and dads think aggression and fighting between siblings is normal and an acceptable way to resolve disagreements.

• Kids who are hungry, bored or tired are more likely to become frustrated and start fights.

• Each youngster is competing to define who they are as an individual.  As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities, and interests.  They want to show that they are separate from their siblings.

• Family dynamics play a role. For example, one youngster may remind a parent of a relative who was particularly difficult, and this may subconsciously influence how the parent treats that youngster.

• How moms and dads treat their children and react to conflict can make a big difference in how well siblings get along.

• Not having time to share regular, enjoyable family time together (e.g., family meals) can increase the chances of kids engaging in conflict.

• Stress in the moms and dads' lives can decrease the amount of time and attention moms and dads can give the kids and increase sibling conflict.

• Stress in your kid’s lives can shorten their fuses, and decrease their ability to tolerate frustration, leading to more conflict.

• Your kid’s developmental stages will affect how mature they are and how well they can share your attention and get along with one another.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How Parents Can Reduce Sibling Conflict—

1. Being fair is very important, but it is not the same as being equal. Older and younger kids may have different privileges due to their age, but if kids understand that this inequality is because one youngster is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair.  Even if you did try to treat your kids equally, there will still be times when they feel as if they’re not getting a fair share of attention, discipline, or responsiveness from you. Expect this and be prepared to explain the decisions you have made. Reassure your children that you do your best to meet each of their unique needs.

2. Don’t play favorites.

3. Enjoy each of your kid’s individual talents and successes.

4. Let each youngster be who they are.  Don’t try to pigeonhole or label them.

5. Make sure each youngster has enough time and space of their own.  Children need chances to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their sibling, and to have their space and property protected.

6. Pay attention to the time of day or other patterns in when disagreements usually occur. Are disagreements more likely right before naps or bedtime or maybe when kids are hungry before meals?   Perhaps a change in the routine, an earlier meal or snack, or a well-planned quiet activity when the children are at loose ends could help avert your youngsters’ disagreements.

7. Plan family activities that are fun for everyone.  If your children have good experiences together, it acts as a buffer when they come into conflict.  It’s easier to work it out with someone you share warm memories with.

8. Set your children up to cooperate rather than compete (e.g., have them race the clock to pick up toys, instead of racing each other).

9. Teach your children positive ways to get attention from each other.  Show them how to approach another youngster and ask them to play, and to share their belongings and toys.

10. Try not to compare your kids to one another (e.g., don't say things like, "Your brother gets good grades in math—why can't you?").

11. Set aside “alone time” for each youngster, if possible.  Each parent should try to spend some one-on-one with each kid on a regular basis.  Try to get in at least a few minutes each day.  It’s amazing how much even 10 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time can mean to your youngster.

12. When you are alone with each youngster, you may want to ask them once in a while what  are some of the positive things their brother or sister does that they really like and what are some of the things they do that might bother them or make them mad. This will help you keep tabs on their relationships, and also remind you that they probably do have some positive feelings for each other!

13. Listen—really listen—to how your kids feel about what’s going on in the family.  They may not be so demanding if they know you at least care how they feel.

14. Celebrate your kid’s differences.

15. Let each youngster know they are special in their own way.

16. Research shows that you should pay attention to your youngsters’ disagreements so that no one gets hurt, and you can notice abuse if it occurs. Try to see if your kids can work out their own disagreements, but remember that younger kids will probably need you to intervene and help structure the problem-solving.    Try not to take sides and favor one youngster over the other. Get them settled and calm first, then ask questions about what happened before dispensing discipline.

17. Help your children develop the skills to work out their disagreements on their own.  Teach them how to compromise, respect one another, divide things fairly, etc.  If you give them the tools, eventually they will have the confidence that they can work it out themselves.

18. Don’t yell or lecture.  It won’t help.

19. It doesn’t matter “who started it,” because it takes two to make a quarrel.  Hold kids equally responsible when ground rules get broken.

20. In a conflict, give your children a chance to express their feelings about each other.  Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings.  Help your children find words for their feelings.  Show them how to talk about their feelings, without yelling, name-calling, or violence.

21. Encourage win-win negotiations, where each side gains something.

22. Give your children reminders and advance warnings (for example, counting to three). When they start picking on each other, help them remember to state their feelings to each other.  Help them solve the problem themselves. You can offer suggestions, but let them decide what the best options are.

23. If you are constantly angry at your children, no wonder they are angry at each other!  Anger feeds on itself.  Learn to manage your anger, so you can teach your kids how to manage theirs.

24. Teach conflict resolution skills during calm times.

25. Model good conflict resolution skills for your children when interacting with them and with other family members.

26. Dangerous fights need to be stopped immediately.  Separate the kids.  When they have calmed down, talk about what happened and make it very clear that no violence is ever allowed.

27. If your kids are physically violent with each other on a regular basis, and/or one youngster is always the victim, is frightened of the brother/sister, and doesn’t fight back, you are dealing with sibling abuse.  You should seek immediate professional help and guidance.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Involve your kids in setting ground rules.  Ground rules, with clear and consistent consequences for breaking them, can help prevent many squabbles.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Any youngster who demands to be first will go last.
  • If arguing over who gets first choice of bedtime stories or favorite seats in the car is a problem, assign your children certain days of the week to be the one to make these choices. 
  • If borrowing is a problem, have the youngster who borrows something from a brother or sister put up collateral—a possession that will be returned only when the borrowed item is returned. 
  • If the children fight over a toy, the toy goes into time-out. 
  • In a conflict, no hurting (e.g., hitting, kicking, pinching, etc.) is ever allowed. 
  • No fighting in the car or you will pull over and stop until all is calm again. 
  • No making fun of a youngster who is being punished, or you will also be punished. 
  • No name-calling, yelling, or tattling is allowed.

What are family meetings, and how can they help with sibling conflict?

If you have older kids, call a family meeting every once in a while. A family meeting is a meeting for all family members to work together to make family decisions. Moms and dads, kids, and any others who live in the home and have a stake in decisions affecting the daily life of the family should take part. Choose a time that works for everyone.  Establish a set of rules (e.g., no yelling or name-calling, everyone gets a turn) and allow everyone to have a say, even if members don’t agree.

The purpose of the family meeting is to recognize that everyone's opinion makes a difference.  The meeting allows the family to share their opinions, seek understanding, and find resolutions to problems. Family meetings help to build cooperation and responsibility, and make anger and rebellion less likely. Also, it is a time to share love, develop unity, and to build trust and self-esteem. The social skills and attitudes that kids develop within the family circle are the skills and attitudes they will carry with them the rest of their lives

Ground rules for family meetings:
  • Everyone gets a chance to talk
  • Everyone has to listen 
  • No one has to talk 
  • No one puts anyone else down
  • Okay to say what you feel 
  • One person talks at a time and does not get interrupted

Sample agenda for family meetings:
  • Clarify the issue to be discussed
  • Determine priority issue(s)
  • Determine the most effective solutions
  • Discuss family issues, concerns, interests, and positive events of past week
  • Generate possible solutions
  • Make plans to implement the solution
  • Plan one fun activity for the coming week


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Our oldest I believe is an Aspie. He begins going after the younger children from the moment he wakes up in the morning. I tend to dread having a family meal as he needs to be corrected so often, we end up sending him out. We all went swimming, one of the things he enjoys doing. Right off he is bugging the younger kids. Always one upping them. I sent him out of the water for a time out, after this things were OK. We do get tired of having to constantly guard the younger ones, mostly from the emotional picking that that goes on. If we eat a meal, go out together, the oldest child will rarely sychronize with anyone. The only place he settles completely is in the library, he also enjoys traveling in trains, and planes, likes being in the city. He hates movies, malls, giant stores... gets utterly hyper and anxious. Any kind of family event beyond those few favored activities tends to be stressful and unpleasant. Camping he will refuse to help, then does so begrudgingly. Mostly sits about staring in a chair. Going with him alone is a delight. He is hilariously funny, witty and interesting to be around. Very easy going if alone with myself or my husband. Put a sibling in the mix and we have most everyone frustrated and worn out in short order. We will try more of the things on the list, all good ideas.

Join Our Facebook Support Group

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Online Parenting Coach - Syndicated Content