Sibling Strife


“But she started it!,” comes the whine from the backseat. If these are familiar words (and I know they are), you’re not alone. Most parents have kids with at least one thing in common: sibling fighting. Unless your children are far apart in age (or they’re benevolent aliens from another planet), they’re going to fight. So the real question is, “What is the best way for us parents to handle it?” Do we intervene? Do we ignore? Do we throw water at them like fighting dogs?

We all know sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up. And we all remember stories from our own childhood of fighting brothers and sisters. (I personally have memories of screaming and hair-pulling fights in the family car. P.S. My sisters and I are the best of friends now). But most parents would agree: even though they’re “normal,” sibling fights drive us crazy. They cause additional stress on marriages and create a general climate of negativity and familial unhappiness. Siblings often lure moms and dads into their disputes, each often finding a corresponding parent to support their side. But it’s important as parents to present a united front (even if you disagree), in order to set a positive example and teach your kids to resolve conflict themselves.

One fundamental cause of sibling rivalry is jealousy.  Because children often assume there is a limited amount of parental love, attention, and material items, this leads to conflict. (Researchers believe siblings close in age and of the same gender can be especially competitive with each other.) And though parents try in vain to make things “fair,” this is a stressful and next-to-impossible goal to maintain. To this day, my own mother keeps a Christmas List spread sheet for her “thirty-ish” year old children to make sure she spends the same amount on each child (as close to the penny as possible). Even though I can’t say I mind this policy, I encourage parents NOT to aim for equality, but to tell kids that in the end, things balance out. It’s also helpful to remind kids that “Life isn’t always fair,” which will be especially true once they leave the nest. So if one of your kids has done an exceptional job on something, point it out.  Give her extra praise and attention. It’s ok to make these daily decisions moment by moment, without having to worry about the long-term consequences of giving a child more strokes than the other.

And when in doubt about whether or not to intervene, remember this rule of thumb: “Don’t rush to break up a fight. Ignore the small stuff, and address the biggies.” If you’re always jumping in to solve their problems, your kids will never learn to resolve conflicts themselves. I often jokingly tell parents, unless you see blood or hear an agonizing scream, let them work it out on their own.  Oh, and of course lead your children by example.  Do you really expect your kids to behave better than you do?

Want more help with surviving sibling conflict? Check out our Sibling Strife Workshop! This unique workshop includes separate classrooms for parents and sibling pairs—each teaching strategies for resolving sibling conflict.

Click here for the flier: [Note: Date has changed to September 30th!]

Want more tips? Listen to my podcast on the topic:


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