Sibling rivalry

5min read

It’s natural to have disagreements with siblings. Although it can feel especially hard to navigate as a parent at times. Ultimately, the relationship children have with their siblings will help them to map out the way in which they socialise, and deal with disagreements in the future. Understandably sometimes it can feel too much, perhaps there has been a significant period of relentless arguing, perhaps siblings are physically fighting or it has gone too far with words and emotions. It’s important to try and pick your battles accordingly so you are able to make that necessary judgement call - when you are needed. 

Key Points:

  • Praise them. Let them know you appreciate the effort they are making when they are getting along, try not to compare
  • You can make the call - will this be resolved between them or do you feel the need to mediate
  • Don’t rush to stop every argument, however, do step in if the arguments become physically or verbally violent

Why do they have to argue?

Arguments can arise from so many different things - perhaps the argument could start over possessions and refusal to share, jealousy, privacy or even space.

Sometimes younger children feel jealous that their elder brother or sister is allowed to do things that they aren’t – such as having a later bedtime or staying out with their friends for longer. Explain that they will be able to enjoy the same privileges as they get older. Point out the advantages of being young – for example, they don’t have to help around the house as much as their older brother or sister does. 

Sometimes arguments can simply arise due to more physical feelings – boredom, hunger, worries or hormones. This is especially common for teens, it’s important to try and keep communication calm and open, so they can share with you how they feel.

Managing the arguments 

Family Agreements and Routines

If you find the same arguments arise time after time, perhaps you could consider creating a family agreement or routine to address some of the recurring issues. This could include taking turns on a device, ensuring that everyone is clear on allocated chores and days, screen times, allocated shower/bath times etc. Perhaps if your children share a room you could agree on set days they are allowed the room to themselves for a few hours. If they struggle to share, consider allowing them a small space for a couple of things which are “theirs” and encourage the remaining toys and games to be shared and fairly used. 

Role Modelling

You can be a role model for your children in many ways. For any age child or teen this could include demonstrating how to compromise or to work out a disagreement calmly and kindly without fighting. Let them see you getting on with others. This will give them a good grounding for resolving their own arguments and disagreements in the future. 

Create a plan

It can be really stressful when siblings are arguing, it is physically and emotionally draining at any age. As hard as it is, try to stay calm to prevent the arguments escalating. It can feel reassuring to have a plan of response in mind. For younger children perhaps you could create a calm zone or space where they can go and sit if they are feeling angry - perhaps you can decorate it with some cushions and lights, put some books or some paper and pens in there and encourage them to write or draw how they are feeling. When they are feeling calmer you could perhaps help them to work out a solution. 

For teens it may help to have a plan of response in mind to reduce your own stress and theirs too. If you need to step in, can you help to resolve the issue by facilitating an agreement or by encouraging them to both explain their problems to you individually? Maybe you can encourage them to take some timeout until they feel calm enough to talk - perhaps a walk, listening to music or by having some breathing space from each other before coming back to work things out. 

If you feel the arguments have become unmanageable, violent or out of hand and you need help, you can also speak to your child’s teacher or GP who may be able to make a referral. 

Looking after yourself

As a parent or guardian, it is important to ensure you look after your own mental and physical health so you feel you can cope with the challenges that sibling arguments can bring. We understand that it can be difficult to cope with this issue on top of life's ups and downs. Taking time out to look after yourself is important. If you can get a break from the children by asking friends or family, this can help you recharge your batteries. If things get too much it’s important to get some support and you can talk to us for emotional support and advice. 

Our top tips 

  • Try to treat everyone equally, it doesn't necessarily matter who started the fight.  If siblings feel you are taking sides, this will only add to the problem
  • Remind them to talk through their problems but if things do get too heated, make sure they know to ask an adult to help resolve the conflict
  • Encourage them to think of others. Ask them how they think their brother or sister is feeling, and what they would want if they were in their position. This will help them to empathise with others
  • As tough as and stressful it can be at times, it is crucial to remain calm as your tone of voice and actions will remind them that this can be resolved

Further resources

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.

Other organisations that may be useful

Childline has a Calm Zone and Tool Box which is great for younger children (under 12) to access when they are feeling stressed

Young Minds has some good tips for teens on how to talk to family about your feelings, and what to do if you are arguing with siblings or other family members

Our online parenting courses may be able to help and you can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home

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