Sibling Rivalry: 7 Parenting Tips for Helping Siblings Get Along Better

Any parent fortunate enough to raise more than one child, is also graced with the reality of bickering and fighting. While parents wish for their children to get along, grow close, and support and love each other for the their entire lives, what they often experience is anything but peace and bonding.

Sibling rivalry is part of family life, and for many parents it can be a huge source of stress. The image of siblings having a full-time best friend is replaced with the reality of kids quarreling and parents separating kids or taking away privileges!

The truth is that siblings fight, a lot! Research suggests that siblings fight 7-8 times an hour. And it can be even more when they are close in age and/or when they are between the ages of 8-11 year old (just before they gain more independence and expand friendships). For parents, it can be very helpful to have a shift in perspective.  Instead of seeing sibling arguments as an annoyance, a parenting failure, or delinquent children, you can view these moments as opportunities for teaching your children.

Here are some tips and strategies to minimize the quarrels and increase the connection between the siblings in your home:

  1. Teach your kids that getting angry is okay, but yelling, hitting and name calling are not. As parents, remember you are their best model! DO what you want your children to do. If you want your children to demonstrate self-control, then (1) SHOW them what that looks like and (2) TEACH them how to do it. You can validate the feeling of anger while maintaining boundaries about what are acceptable, safe ways of expressing it.
  2. Stay impartial. One child can’t fight alone. It is best to not pick a side or ask “Who started it?” However, every child benefits from knowing how to RESOLVE THE CONFLICT, so this is the best place for parents to focus their energies.  Usually, both kids need a moment to calm down before they can effectively problem solve solutions to their dispute. They may need to take a few deep breaths or step away from each other until calm.  Then they can take on the task of problem solving a fair solution together.
  3. Don’t intervene unless you have to. Give your children the chance to work things out on their own before stepping in, and resist attempts to be pulled in by someone’s tattling. Helping your child(ren) involves being neutral and teaching skills, rather than getting someone in trouble.  Problem solving skills include each child coming up with ideas to resolve their conflict and compromising for a fair plan.
  4. Establish rules for when you’ll intervene to fights and what happens if you do. Let them know in advance that when you do get involved, it will mean identical punishment for all involved. Unequal punishment and taking sides breeds resentment between siblings and encourages siblings to “tell” on each other. Your goal is to help them learn how to work together and resolve disputes on their own.
  5. After upsets and tempers cool down, talk with children about alternative solutions to fix the problem. Let children tell their version of what occurred, and then problem-solve as many ideas as possible for how they could re-do what happened to have a better outcome. It’s amazing what children will come up with their minds are calm! This allows them to be prepared the next time they are in a similar situation.
  6. Remember to notice and praise good behavior. Many parents say they are reluctant to draw attention to their children when they are getting along, fearful that this will cause them to quarrel. It is best to acknowledge that you are pleased with their behavior and perhaps even have them notice how nice it is. You can also subtly praise this behavior without interrupting it using touch, like a gentle squeeze of their shoulders or a caress of their heads as you walk by.
  7. Spend a little time each day one-on-one with your children. This can help reduce fighting that is caused by seeking parent’s attention, while also establishing a strong bond and keeping lines of communication open.

Written by Victoria L. Norton, Psy.D. at Linden BP. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.