Simple Techniques for Dealing with Sibling Squabbles

Positive sibling relationships can be a source of strength for life, whereas unresolved early conflicts can create wounds that never quite heal. Parents need not intervene in every quarrel. However, parents should obviously intervene whenever an argument turns violent or threatens to do so.

For example, when an older child is hitting his baby sister, the parent intervenes immediately and makes it clear that hurting others is not acceptable. The same is true for verbal abuse between siblings that leaves one or both angry or with negative feelings about the other. Establish guidelines, such as treating the word “hate” as a forbidden one and not allowing “shut up” between siblings. A “no hitting, no hurting” expectation can be established so the youngsters will know that they are to work out their problems peacefully.

Realize that most children hate fighting—even when they are winning. They do it because they do not have the tools for dealing with their frustrations. Typically, fighters are separated to cool off. However, I have found that an effective technique is to have them sit down together until each gives the other permission to get up. This technique diminishes anger more speedily than if the children are separated completely. Youngsters often realize the situation they are in (not able to get up until permission is given by the other person) and actually start laughing. Humor is a great problem solver.

Another approach is for a parent to listen to both parties while the youngsters come up with a solution. Still another is to have each sibling write down his or her side of the story. When the parent looks at the two stories, each will be different. The charge is then given for the siblings to present an ending to the stories that both can live with.

A variation is to have them write their individual stories and then read each other’s. Then have them create a plan they both agree on, even an impractical one. Anger dissipates even more as they come up with zany endings.