Effective Strategies for Handling Sibling Conflict

Young siblings fighting over toy.

Is Sibling Conflict Unavoidable?

The story of Cain and Abel is one of the oldest stories we have, from the earliest days of humanity, and it’s about some serious sibling conflict. Are we hard-wired to fight with our brothers and sisters? There are many different reasons sibling conflicts happen, but they don’t have to be a major problem. Parents can help manage these fights, in order to help our children develop life-long friendships with their siblings.

Why Is Sibling Conflict so Common?

On a deep level, sibling conflicts have to do with each child’s quest to discover his or her own identity and place within the family. There is also the matter of shared resources, which is, of course, at the heart of many conflicts, large and small, personally and globally. It comes down to a combination of externalized conflict and internalized conflict. Externally, children are impacted by things like birth order, gender, temperament, and talent, all of which can cause other people to look at them differently. Add to that list differing developmental stages and any developmental or psychiatric disorders that may be in the mix, and it’s easy to see how conflict arise. Sources of internalized conflict sometimes overlap with the external issues; temperament, for example, impacts how children see themselves as well as how they handle conflict. Verbal fluency and social emotional deficits have an affect on a child’s ability to understand and communicate with siblings. Consider that these factors are also influenced by the way you parent the children, the way the parents interact with each other, and environmental stressors on the family, and it’s easy to see why sibling conflict is complicated and difficult to manage.

How Much Should Parents Intervene?

There is a school of thought that maintains that children should handle conflict on their own, without the interference of adults. To a certain extent, that is true, as long as you have already provided them with the tools to manage conflict in a productive, positive way. However, it is crucial that parents intervene if the disagreement becomes aggressive, either physically or verbally. The best course of action, in fact, is to intervene early and work on preventing conflicts from escalating. Identify the triggers that are causing the conflict, talk to your kids about coping with these issues, and try to guide them away from escalation.

Tips for Promoting Healthy Sibling Relationships

  • Encourage open communication. Work on communication with your children, helping them articulate their needs and feelings rather than acting impulsively. Don’t take sides, but help facilitate this communication by acting as a mediator, and guiding your children towards a peaceful resolution of their issues.
  • Teach healthy conflict resolution. Learning to manage disagreements in a constructive way is a skill that will serve children well throughout their lifetimes. If you can instill this in them early, it will help them to grow into adults who are adept at resolving conflict and managing interpersonal relationships. Work with your children on listening to their siblings’ point of view, not engaging in name-calling or below the belt fighting, and learning to settle disputes without losing their temper. There is a unique component to the sibling bond, in which siblings know how to push each other’s buttons better than anyone else ever could. Teaching your kids to avoid this impulse will go a long way towards helping them become adults who can sustain healthy relationships.
  • Emphasize how harmony is important to the family. Your family is a team, and a breakdown in the relationships between family members affects the entire team. For the family to function well, all the family members need to work together to promote peace and treat each other in loving ways. Try to prevent sibling rivalry in your family, fostering an atmosphere of collaboration rather than competition.
  • Make respect non-negotiable. Name calling, as well as verbal and physical aggression, should be absolutely against the rules. Encourage your children to think about how they’d like to be treated before responding to their siblings.
  • Listen to each side, encourage collaborative problem-solving. Each of your children needs to feel heard, and it is important for you to listen, without judgement or interruption. Keep your children’s confidences, and don’t take sides, but instead work with your children and encourage them to find fair, healthy solutions to the conflict.
  • Model healthy behaviors. As with all parenting issues, this is one in which you really must practice what you preach. In your relationships with your children, your spouse, and other members of your family, strive to remain respectful, loving, and solution-focused in the midst of conflict.
  • Seek help when you need it. It hasn’t been solved since the dawn of humanity, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to completely eliminate sibling conflict on your own. Sometimes, you will need external support, so don’t be afraid to seek this out, whether in the form of a parenting support group, family therapy, or some other form of support.

Growing Families can be Happy Families

We hope these tips will help you to help your children and promote harmony in your home as your family grows. At the Center for Vasectomy Reversal, we love helping people grow their happy families. We pride ourselves on helping men improve their fertility through uncompromising, concierge-level patient care. Under the direction of Dr. Joshua Green, our team provides state-of-the-art treatment for men who need a reversal of their vasectomy or have other fertility concerns. To learn more, contact us through our website or call 941-894-6428.