One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is managing conflict between siblings. Although frustrating, some discord between siblings is normal and is, in fact, one of the ways in which children learn to negotiate conflict and to tolerate frustration.
So why do siblings argue? Your children’s individual temperaments, stages of development, a child’s illness or disability, differences in parental attention, and parent modeling of behaviour may all play a role. If sibling conflict is causing stress in your home, these five strategies may help.
- Notice if there are patterns to your children’s conflict. If they always fight just before bed, try to set each child up in a separate activity at this time of day. If your children seem to argue more when they are hungry, a well-timed snack may be instrumental.
- Make sure that you spend enough individual time with each child, delighting in those things that make him or her unique. Simply 5 or 10 minutes of your undivided attention each day can be meaningful. Celebrate your children’s differences.
- At times of conflict, focus on the behaviour of each child, rather than worrying about who was right. Hold both children accountable if they broke household rules. If necessary, separate your children. When things have calmed down, talk to your children about what they could have done differently, ensuring that you allow your children to come up with their own ideas and then talking through the possible consequences for each idea.
- It is also important to have regular discussions about managing conflict, rather than simply reacting to each incident. Teach your children about how to compromise, negotiate, and how to know when they need to walk away in order to calm down. When your children start to bicker, remind them of their conflict management skills before the argument escalates. Once the argument is more heated, you have likely lost this opportunity.
- It is fine to ignore minor bickering. Disagreements between your children do not necessarily have to be managed, and as mentioned, can help your children to learn to solve problems.
While these basic guidelines are important, it is also essential to know when sibling conflict requires greater intervention. If your children are regularly causing each other physical injury, or if one child is always the aggressor, it may be time to seek professional assistance. Furthermore, when sibling conflict has become so frequent or intense that there is a great deal of stress in the home, seek support from a mental health professional.