Solving Sibling Clashes

Brothers bickering? Sisters squabbling? Help your children work toward peaceful resolutions, and watch the conflicts and rivalries diminish.


Start Mediating

Most parents are stumped when it comes to the best way to stop the sibling bickering. Here's a process for resolving disagreements. A mediator -- the parent, in this case -- helps children find a mutually acceptable resolution. Mediation takes the parent out of the role of problem solver and allows her instead to help children resolve their own conflicts.

Set Ground Rules

Establishing fair and reasonable rules of engagement is essential to controlling sibling skirmishes. Work together with your kids to establish guidelines. You may even want to write them down and post them somewhere prominent.

For example...

  • Rules could include no name calling, requiring everyone to remain seated during the discussion, and not allowing anyone to interrupt the speaker.
  • No one can listen effectively when he or she is too mad, so if tempers are still hot from the argument, you might include a rule that calls for a 5- or 10-minute break that lets the combatants separate.
  • Don't send kids to traditional time-out zones -- this isn't about punishment. Let them go where they want, as long it helps them cool down.
  • When you come back together, stick to the rules you've all established so each child can hear the other's concerns.

Define the Problem or Issue

Make sure each child has a chance to tell her version of what happened. During a cool-off break, you might talk to each child alone to help determine the problem. When you're back together, use that talk to help define the issue by rephrasing what they say, making sure everything is clear.

Brainstorm Solutions

Children will be more committed to sticking with a decision when they come up with it in the first place, so encourage kids to generate ideas to resolve the fight. Just be prepared to challenge their suggestions if the solutions don't seem feasible. In the heat of the moment, kids may be perfectly amenable to, say, agreeing never to speak to each other ever, but as the voice of reason, you'll have to step in and gently suggest that they try again.

Agree and Commit

Continue the discussion until the children arrive at one solution that both agree to. If they can't reach a reasonable agreement, go back to brainstorming. It may take some time at first, but once kids can agree on a course of action, it's easier to let go of the conflict, and neither side leaves the table with bruised feelings that could fester.

Take Yourself Out of the Fight

Eventually, you want kids to be able to follow the rules and articulate their problems by themselves, especially when you only have 30 minutes before basketball practice and you're trying to get dinner ready. After you've successfully mediated three or four arguments, try a little active nonintervention. When you hear the start of a fight, you might say, "Hey, I hear that you're having some trouble. I'd like to see you work it out. If you need some help, let me know." This lets kids know that you are aware of a problem and think they have the skills to resolve it on their own.

Research has found that most parents respond to sibling conflicts by ignoring them or by responding in an authoritative manner, which does nothing to help teach kids the fine art of compromise. Instead, parents should guide children with strategies that avoid disputes, or help them to deal with conflict more calmly.

Be Proactive

Having guidelines for settling an argument is important, but you can help kids avoid many squabbles altogether by setting rules for common activities or shared possessions. Those rules could include how computer time is split, what the expectations are about sharing toys, or who gets to choose a TV show.

Be a Good Role Model

How you interact with your spouse, your friends, neighbors, and even strangers teaches kids how to act. If a parent gets frustrated easily or teases too much, kids may do the same.

Promote Positive Family Traditions

Provide activities that encourage kids to have fun together and enjoy each other so they see their relationship as something more than a bickerfest. Go roller skating, sledding, or bowling together. A family tradition such as game night is good practice for handling sibling arguments because game play with family members helps kids solve problems and regulate emotions, two skills they'll need long after game boards are put away.

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