Written by Brighde Campbell
Sibling conflict making things hard in your household? This is a common occurrence as siblings of different ages and stages work out how to get along together. This can be anything from harmonious to riotous and all the stages in between. Working out how to resolve things, solve disagreements, negotiate and work together as well as accept differences, have fun and enjoy being together is an important part of growing up with your siblings.
Often kids need help and a referee to help work out their disputes as children need support to learn to solve conflicts. Leaving them to repeat conflicts without helping them change is likely to lead to more of the same – frustration, irritation and potential resentment in the long term. It can be tempting to tell them to stop and issue warnings about what will happen if they don’t, but if you can, step back and see what it’s about first. Conflict is usually about a mismatch of needs and wants.
If your children seem to be in constant conflict, the following may help work through it:
Be available - intervene early to check in – can they resolve it themselves?
If they can, great! If they can’t, what do they need? Do you need to step in and talk them through it or separate them until everyone is calm and can talk it through?
Connect in with them - What’s the emotional tone? Is someone tired, angry, feeling sick, sad?
What’s the issue? Wanting some peace and quiet, being interrupted? Wanting to keep their new thing for themselves for a while?
Is there a repeat pattern of taking things from each other, teasing each other, a difference of opinions about who owns things? Are they bossing each other around?
If there are age differences, do they have different needs for time and space that are being interrupted and unsettled?
Older siblings can be quite sophisticated in their social skills compared to younger ones. Do the younger ones need an advocate? Do the older ones need a break from little ones joining in a bit too much and taking their things? Tweens and teens have a lot more need for space and privacy and sometimes if they are the older sibling we can expect them to be more ‘mature’ overlooking that they are also still learning and growing.
Emotion coaching is a really helpful approach at these times:
Acknowledge how they feel and help them name and understand this before you start problem solving. This helps you stay connected, for them to feel understood and then for you to problem solve together for example –
‘This looks tough, it’s very frustrating to have your things taken. It really annoys you, I can understand that’.
Once calm, help them talk about it. What’s going on? What needs to be different? What can they do and what do you need to do? You made need to step in and teach or provide boundaries and redirect. e.g
‘This looks tough, it’s very frustrating to have your things taken. I can understand that….it’s not ok to hit your sister when you feel this way even if you are really really annoyed with her. Let’s talk about what else you can do and what help you need from me’
It's helpful to remember that it takes kids time and support to learn to manage conflict and it’s part of normal development. If conflicts are well established, it can take time to change but it is possible with your help and guidance. Using an emotion coaching approach helps kids learn to name and understand their feelings and to feel confident with this and for you to stay connected to their emotional growth and to help them develop into confident teens and adults.
If you are interested in knowing more about it the following 10 session course is available online and is an accessible way to learn more: