Coaching Siblings to Problem-solving When They Have Arguments

What's Covered

Having a tranquil moment to yourself, a glass of warm milk to calm your nerves, suddenly you hear “Mom, he has hit me.” Sounds familiar, right? It’s logical you’ll want to rush to intervene. Be careful.  

Intervene as a mediator. Listen to both parties without bias and allow them to come up with ideas on how to solve the problem. If you offer a solution every time your children fight, you’ll be taking away their ability to mend issues on their own. Coach them to solve their problems for positive sibling relations and future experience.[1]

How will they learn and adapt to problem-solving without practice?

Is Sibling Rivalry Healthy? At What Point does it Become Unhealthy?

There are contradictions to whether sibling rivalry is healthy. Some say it’s normal, but not healthy. The reason for maintaining this is because it’s driven by negative emotions; jealousy, unhealthy competitiveness, and resentfulness. When siblings feel hateful towards each other, there’s nothing healthy about it regardless of the reason. 

Sibling relationships are and will be one of the longest relationships in a person’s life. Siblings spend most of their time together and have lots of things in common to know each other so well. When someone knows you well, he can either be of use or damage to you. Why not make the best of it?

Fights between siblings happen, but you don’t have to conceptualize it as a norm. As long as there are ways you can as a parent nurture a positive sibling relationship, then you should not give room for conflict. You’re better stopping conflict before or solve it right after it happens. But don’t ignore it.

Sibling rivalry may have a negative emotional and mental impact on a child. Therefore, if you neglect and take sibling rivalry as a normal part of kids’ growth, it may have devastating effects on their social development.

It gets out of hand when a child self-sabotages himself for wanting acceptance from his siblings. Constant efforts to reach out to a brother /sister without success may crush his ego. He’ll be putting himself in a position to get hurt every time his sibling rejects him. 

Children need someone to look up to. In most cases, they look from home, either the parents or elder siblings. So, if the relation is sour, they may struggle to look elsewhere since they don’t like the idea of the elder siblings with whom they fight, to mentor them.

All these sum up that sibling rivalry isn’t healthy.

Those of the opinion that sibling rivalry is healthy, argue that it helps kids to know how to deal with competition, stress, and anger since they’ve experienced it before. Well, it isn’t true. Rather, it is the mediation and correctional approaches that the parents take to avert or solve sibling rivalry which helps kids to learn conflict resolution skills. It is the listening and acceptance of each other that will support them to get to respect and value each other. These are qualities that influence them into future relations as well.

Take steps to stop bullying at home as you take to stop in schools.

What causes sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry may develop from the moment there’s a new concept in the family, could be a second baby, a new home, a new school, or a new job, and may carry on to early teens or beyond. The firstborn kid sees a new entrant and may have mixed feelings towards the baby depending on how you, the parent, behave after getting the little one. It could be a new job consuming most of your time, hence giving less attention to your kids. Here are some causes of sibling rivalry.

1. When a child feels a lack of attention

Sometimes it happens without your intent. For instance, you’ve just had a beautiful and healthy baby barely three months old. Everyone’s excited, and all the love and attention seem to have shifted to the new baby. The elder sibling feels left out, unloved, or just lacks your attention.

The elder siblings see the new baby as a threat. If the situation persists, they resent the baby and start fighting and quarreling to attract your attention. Make them understand that it’s okay and nothing will change, even with the presence of a new baby.

The younger kid yearns for more attention from the parents since he may not be mature enough to understand how to share the parent’s attention.

2. Over praising one child and reprimanding the other

When one of your kids performs well, could be in school, sports, or just behaves well at home, you praise and reward him. Don’t overdo it, especially if his siblings feel that they too have been exemplary in other areas but didn’t get such praises.  

The child you didn’t praise may look down on himself and feel stupid or unworthy. This makes him resentful and jealous of his sibling. He’ll start getting competitive and angry, trying to outdo each other in a quest for praise. Failure to achieve his target, he picks a fight with his brother/sister. Whenever you try to intervene, he may say some rather tough words like, “You can’t be proud of me because I’m not smart like him.” This jealousy torments him. Try to praise your kids fairly without causing the other to feel undervalued.

Reprimanding a kid in the presence of his siblings crashes his confidence. Do it in private and with sympathy.

3. When Parents Play Favorites

Playing favorites is a major cause of sibling rivalry. You could do it unknowingly, but the impact on the child is strong. When you favor one over the other openly, there’s bound to be trouble. 

“Why do you prefer him to me, aren’t we all your kids?” This is a valid concern of a child who feels you don’t value him. It crashes him inside to think you don’t see him in the same regard as his sibling. This creates a rift in your children due to envy and pride. The child you seem to favor may boast to hurt his sibling’s feelings, while the unfavored gets jealous and competitive.

4. Stressful Parent/s

When you are going through a stressful period in your life, it is difficult to show up when your loved ones need you. The stress will make you drift away from your family; your children will not be an exception. They yearn for your care and attention but do not get it since you can’t give any.

When you’re under stress, you may yell and reprimand your children unfairly. Children who live under such stressful conditions may become aggressive and fight among themselves. They vent their frustrations through fights and arguments in a bid to get your attention.

5. Natural Differences

Some kids are just smart; math isn’t an issue for them. Some are good in sports or other curricular activities. A child becomes jealous when he fails to acknowledge his strengths/talents, and only sees what his sibling is good at.

Older kids feel superior to the younger ones. They exercise their powers by undermining the younger ones, who may feel inferior and bullied. Age difference in this case plays a power role in drifting a wedge between the younger and the elder sibling.

Developmental differences may be a cause for envy among siblings, which contributes to siblings ridiculing or boasting to each other. When a child is lacking in one aspect, he feels inferior and may pick a fight with his sibling to vent his frustrations.

6. Conflicting Parents

Kids live what they see. If parents quarrel and yell at each other in presence of their children, the children pick the same habits. You are your children’s first role model. How will you mold in them what they don’t see in you?

Try to nurture conflict resolution skills at home from an early age. A family with unresolved conflicts experiences difficulties and relationship strain for both parents and children. If you and your spouse have zero tolerance for peace, the effect will trickle to your kids. They will not learn problem-solving skills from parents without any.

7. Children under Stress

A child under stress is usually resentful. He vents his frustrations on others and his siblings become easy targets. Although the stress could come from other places or people other than home or family, the parents should be able to detect and solve it before it persists deeper. 

Effects of Sibling Rivalry

It’s common to hear parents saying, “Let them fight, they’ll sort it out.” If you can’t correct and intervene when your kids fight, they’ll perceive their behavior as tolerable and acceptable. So, you must resolve and avert sibling conflict, however trivial before it happens.

When you leave conflict among siblings unresolved for long, it may affect a child’s social and psychological development. This is because it cultivates a culture of violence in him. He settles all scores with a fight as the only way to get even. This violent behavior may persist into adulthood.[2]

The child is lacking in communication skills. How will he talk and make new friends if all he knows is to sulk and yell? Failure to make friends makes him lonely yet he yearns for acceptance. Although his habit is the cause for rejection, it doesn’t mean it’s easier for him. With all his aggressiveness, he still needs acceptance; the lack of it causes him stress and may culminate in depression.

Unhealthy Competition may crash a child’s confidence. Children are competitive when the elder sibling is smarter or very good at a certain talent. The younger siblings will take this as a benchmark. The parents may praise and demand almost the same performance from the others, forgetting each child is unique. Failure to live up to the set standard of his elder sibling may cripple his confidence. The child may not try even on what he’s good at for fear of failure. 

Persistent sibling rivalry affects the successive family business. A report by Stewart D. Friedman, states that the success of an intergenerational family business depends on successful parental intervention approaches to sibling conflict resolution. It states that destructive sibling relations can destroy family firms.[3]

What is the Best Parent’s Process for Solving Problems between Siblings?

Parents should quit the “let-them-work-it-out” attitude in sibling rivalry. Strive to stop conflicts before they happen. It’s good to have the little ones play closer to you where you can monitor them. If you can’t stop it, approach conflict resolution from a listening and sympathetic point of view, not from a judgmental and ruling point. Mediate and coach kids towards conflict resolution.[4]

In her book, Laura Kastner gives basic approaches to apply in solving conflicts among siblings.

You can try these approaches for an amicable resolution to help foster tolerance and love among siblings.

1. Give Time and Attention to all Kids

Try to set aside time for each child so you can get to listen to their queries and grievances if any. When a child feels he isn’t getting your attention anymore, it’s wise to acknowledge his feelings, and even promise to rectify where he thinks you’re failing. Try to assure him that even with a new baby, or a new job, nothing threatens his position. 

Fair allocation of time to each child, curbs the sibling rivalry, especially when the bone of contention is attention. Although younger ones may need more attention and care compared to the older ones, remember that they too need you. You can try to explain to him why the younger one is needier but still assure and set a time for him.

Besides one on one time with each child, set time for family activities to encourage family bonding such as a game night.

Do You Really Know Your Family?
A fun family game with conversation starters and challenges for kids, teens and adults

 2. Celebrate Each Child’s Individuality

“Yes, your sister is good at math, aren’t you the best athlete in school?” Praise your kids for their talents. The first step is to accept that each child is unique with different capabilities. When you accept this, you help them embrace their differences and celebrate each other’s unique abilities.

Avoid over-praising, or expecting the same result from all kids. When you set a standard based on how one kid is performing, then you’re harboring unhealthy competition. You’re forcing the rest to keep up at a pace they aren’t comfortable with. You can avoid this by helping each child in his area of weakness and cheering him where he does well. This will cause.

  • Each child giving his best without fear of being compared to his sibling.
  • Your kids will cheer for each other instead of competing against each other.
  • The child will accept that he doesn’t have to impress you to get your praise and love.
  • Your kids will learn that it’s okay to be good in one area and average in another.

When you cut off the root of jealousy, it is easy to praise one child without making the other feel underrated. There are funny and educative ways you can use to help them accept their imperfections and adjust their attitudes.

The Coping Skills Game
Nine essential skills to teach kids how to deal with real-life problems

3.  Allow Kids to Come Up with the Solutions

When you hear your kids fighting or struggling over a toy or remote, your first instinct is to give a solution to the squabble. This means they’ll need you to solve their issues every time they fight. But you can’t always be around. That’s why you need to coach them to come up with ideas that will solve their conflicts now and beyond.

You can always assist to come up with the ideas. Encourage them to agree on sharing toys, house chores, or the remote in turns. They could come up with a schedule in which you allocate each one’s role or time for play. This way, each child will have to wait for his turn. No more chaos over whose turn it is to take out the trash or play with a toy. To make the kids have fun while at it, use a scheduling chart.

However, they still need to learn how to share space and toys. You can buy each child a favorite toy of his choice. Then buy other toys that they’ll share. A child will learn how to guard and protect his favorite toy, but since he likes the others too, he has to learn and accept sharing.

4. Be Patient and Calm

You are a role model for your kids. When your kids see your patience and calmness during an argument with your spouse or relatives and friends, they will learn from you.

When you catch them fighting or arguing, don’t snap and yell at them. Calm down your anger before you intervene. Give them and yourself time to calm down before talking things out calmly. You can say, “Why don’t you two calm down then let’s talk when you’re ready.” Be patient until they sit and reflect on their actions on their own. This allows them to be remorseful.

If you face the issue when they are still angry, they may apologize to each other out of fear of authority, not because they are regretful of their actions. Your patience will be fruitful when they come to you after they’ve regretted and apologized to each other, and now you encourage them to come up with solutions to avert similar cases in the future.

5. Listen with Compassion

When siblings wrangle, each one feels he’s more aggrieved than the other. So, when you intervene, give time and listen to each one’s version of what transpired. Avoid statements such as, “Why did you hit your sister/brother?” It may show that you’re already judging unfairly.

You can say, “I can see you’re both mad, how can I help?” As a mediator, the children need to understand that you’re not picking any side. After listening to each version, you can ask them how they feel about each other. You’ll learn that kids let go of grudges faster than adults. Allow them to mend their issues when they are ready after acknowledging the mistake and apologizing.

When you listen with compassion, the child feels you understand, care and believe in him. He’ll find it easy to accept his mistake and stop blaming each other. 

6. Praise and Reward Good Behavior

When you catch your kids playing together in harmony, praise them. “Hey guys, I’m proud to see you getting along so well.” This will boost their ego and encourage them to keep up friendly behavior in the future. It also shows you’re paying attention to them. 

You can reward them with an outing or a stress-free movie night with their favorite bites. The reward should be a surprise. This way, they won’t manipulate the situation to think that to get a certain outcome, they have to do something pleasant. Let them understand they should do what you expect of them, and the reward is just a sign that you’re proud of their effort.

7. Set Family Rules Together

Guidelines will guide your children in choosing what is right. But you have to make them feel the rules are not to coerce them into doing what you want, but what’s acceptable for peace in the family.

Brainstorm with them when setting rules. Involving kids in setting the rules makes it easier for them to remember, respect, and accept the guidelines. They’ll also feel you respect and value their opinions. Again, how could they break the very rules they helped set?  

An important note to remember is to be compassionate when setting rules. Agree with them on the consequences of constantly breaking rules. For instance, you can introduce a no-screen rule for failure to agree on a remote schedule. In such a case, they either lose-lose or win-win, but support them to come up with a decisive agreement. 

If they have a problem with following rules, try this entertaining and playful dragon book to help them understand the importance of following rules.

Train Your Dragon to Follow Rules
A cute children story to teach kids to understand the importance of following rules

Final Thoughts

To help your children grow with love and understanding, guide them towards peaceful co-existence. Equip them with conflict solving skills they can apply in other relationships in the future.[5]

Why can’t it be “The sibling relationship is where they first learn to share, or make friends?” Guide your kids to have tolerance, acceptance, and respect for their differences. It’s okay to agree to disagree, but each one’s opinion is valid. With your guidance, they can be siblings and best friends. 

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish use humor and understanding in their book to guide parents on how to intervene in sibling fights.

Siblings Without Rivalry
How to help your children live together so you can live too

[1] Kramer, Laurie, and Chad Radey. “Improving Sibling Relationships among Young Children: A Social Skills Training Model.” Family Relations, vol. 46, no. 3, 1997, pp. 237–246. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Feb. 2021.

[2] Cicirelli, Victor G. “The Effect of Sibling Relationship on Concept Learning of Young Children Taught by Child-Teachers.” Child Development, vol. 43, no. 1, 1972, pp. 282–287. JSTOR, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

[3] Friedman, Stewart D. “Sibling relationships and intergenerational succession in family firms.” Family Business Review 4.1 (1991): 3-20.

[4] Tucker, Corinna Jenkins, and Kerry Kazura. “Parental responses to school-aged children’s sibling conflict.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 22.5 (2013): 737-745.

[5] Leung, Alexander K. D., and Wm. Lane M. Robson. “Sibling Rivalry.” Clinical Pediatrics, vol. 30, no. 5, May 1991, pp. 314–317, doi:10.1177/000992289103000510

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Diana Lucas

Diana Lucas

Hi, Diana here. Welcome to my blog and hope you like my sharing. I am a mother of 2 boys, 3 years old and a 1 year old. I dedicate my career in child development research and I focus on parenting tips, positive parenting, educational toys for my babies. Your time here means a lot to me! Diana A. Lucas