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Learning About Reducing Sibling Conflict

How can you help reduce conflict among siblings?

Sibling conflict isn't pleasant, but it is common. Conflict often happens because children feel that they have to compete with their siblings for a parent's attention and feedback. Or it may happen simply because they have very different needs and personalities.

Sibling conflict isn't all bad. When handled well, it can help kids learn how to manage their emotions, understand different viewpoints, and work with others to solve problems.

That's where you come in. These ideas can help end the struggle and bring peace to your household.

  • Get everyone to a calmer state.

    Disagreements and problems can bring out strong emotions. The most important first step to solving these problems is to get everyone involved to a calmer state. Your young children can learn to do this, however, they cannot do it on their own. They'll learn best by seeing you calm yourself first and then by having lots of chances to practice themselves. Once everyone is calm, you can work together to solve the problem.

  • Encourage kids to work out problems on their own.

    Try to step in only if a child may get hurt or is being taken advantage of. But to limit arguing, you may want to set a time limit. For example, you might tell your children to come to you only if they can't work things out after 15 minutes. Notice and comment if they can reach a good solution without your help.

  • Teach your children healthy ways to disagree.
    • Set guidelines, such as no hitting, yelling, or name-calling.
    • Teach kids about "hot" emotions, like anger. Help them find positive ways to handle these emotions, like through physical activity, writing in a journal, or making art.
  • Be a coach, not a judge.

    If you have to get involved in a fight, keep siblings apart until tempers have cooled. Then:

    • Listen to all viewpoints. Don't take sides. Guide the kids to discuss and work through their problems themselves.
    • Help them build empathy. Ask each child why they think their sibling is responding in the way they are. Then ask how they might react if they felt as their sibling does.
  • Be fair and consistent.

    Explain that fair may not mean equal. For example, an older child may have more privileges than a younger child, such as being allowed to stay up later.

  • Don't compare kids to each other.

    This can lead to competition and resentment. Appreciate each child's efforts and abilities. Look for ways that your kids can build on their strengths and feel good about themselves.

  • Make sure that each child has some space and time of their own.

    Kids need some privacy and a chance to do things without their siblings. This helps them build their own identity. It may be especially important for multiples, such as twins or triplets.

  • Give each child some one-on-one time with you.

    For example, you might schedule half an hour a week with each child. Use this time to do things your child enjoys and that build the child's strengths.

    During this time, you could also give your child some practice in problem-solving. For example, you might say that you think you have hurt a friend's feelings by mistake, and ask your child what they would do in that situation. This can be a nice way to bond and to learn how your child reasons and approaches conflict.

  • Set a good example.

    Be aware of how you handle conflict. Your kids learn by watching you.

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