8 Tips for Managing Sibling Conflict

It's perfectly normal for siblings to fight but regular conflict can make life miserable. Here are some top tips to help.

Most parents will understand the frustration of constant sibling battles, it's perfectly normal for siblings to argue but regular conflict can leave you feeling like you're living in a war zone. It's not great for anyone's mental health. Helping your kids to positively manage disagreements with their siblings not only makes for a calmer, happier life now, but also sets them up with skills that will benefit them in later life.

Kids who grow up knowing how to manage conflict positively are better at negotiating,
compromise and problem solving. These are skills that can benefit them in the workplace and in adult relationships and give them a better chance at a harmonious future.

As a parent, how do you help your kids to develop these skills?

Here are my top tips:

  1. Talk about sibling harmony as important to the whole family. Build a team feeling and talk about how any disagreements can impact on the whole team and make it harder to do the fun stuff. Do some activities together as a family that everyone can join in and bond to build the team feel. 
  2. It's important to let kids try to resolve their conflicts but there needs to be a clear time for you to step in. If things are escalating and it looks like someone will get hurt, or behaviour becomes unacceptable, then step in and diffuse the situation by asking them to take some time out to calm down. It's important at this point not to join the escalation by shouting at the kids to calm down. Give them some time to calm down and think more clearly before talking to them about it.
  3. Once calm, listen to each of them. I mean, really listen. Don't offer any solutions or opinions, just listen without judgement. Use empathy statements like " that sounds really hard " or " it sounds like you were really frustrated ". Instead of giving advice and telling them what they should do next time try asking some key questions like " How do you think she was feeling?" and "how does it make you feel when she does that to you?" Asking questions encourages reflection and critical thinking. It also promotes empathy for each other and when practiced consistently can help them to put themselves in each other's shoes and regulate their actions more easily.
  4. Speak openly about your own experiences. Talk about how you and your siblings used to fight and reflect on your relationship now if this is appropriate. It's important to normalise conflict in relationships. All relationships have ups and downs and they need to understand that this is normal and nothing to be worried about. It's also okay to get angry or frustrated sometimes. But, it's also important for them to know what appropriate behaviour is in these situations.
  5. Negotiate boundaries and rules. This can be done individually or together as appropriate but the ultimate goal is to have some discussion and come to an agreement together about what is acceptable and what is not. Ask the kids to write 2 lists - what is acceptable in these situations and what is not acceptable. Also discuss how they feel when these behaviours occur and what the outcome is. This helps them to understand the impact of their actions on others. Once you have 2 agreed lists discuss what would be a suitable reward if you observe them behaving in a way outlined on the acceptable list. Also discuss, what consequences they think would be appropriate if they behaved in an unacceptable manner. Rewards and consequences need to be proportionate, clear and consistent to be effective. Once this is all agreed, be clear that it is their choice how they behave and they are in control of what happens next.
  6. Encourage kids to identify the problem rather than being personal about each other. Kids will often say things like " I hate you" or "you're stupid"  which can be very hurtful and they rarely mean it so is often followed by feeling guilty. Encourage them to identify the behaviour they don't like. For example, "I don't like it when you call me names because it makes me feel sad". 
  7. Ask the kids to suggest some solutions about how to resolve conflicts. They feel more in control and are more likely to invest in making changes when they have come up with their own ideas rather than having instructions forced upon them. 
  8. Model good problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Kids will undoubtedly witness you and your friends or partner having some kind of disagreement at some point. Or you may disagree with them sometimes. It's important that you show them how to behave appropriately and how to manage this productively and positively. They will learn from you and your behaviour in these situations. If your response to someone not doing something is to shout or to storm off or to shut down, that's what they will learn is the right and normal way to deal with things. There is no judgement here, we can all lose it at times. But, remember these situations are all learning opportunities. So even if you don't feel you handle things well, you can still talk to them about it and make suggestions on how you could have handled it better and go on the journey to conflict resolution together.

When you are putting these strategies into practice it is important that you check in from time to time and spend some time reflecting with the kids on how things are going. When you observe a situation give praise if they are making good choices to let them know you have recognised their behaviour. This makes them more likely to repeat it. 

If they continue to struggle, spend some time talking to them about what happened and ask them what they could do differently next time.

It's important for all involved to recognise that we all have free will. We cannot control the behaviour of other people and force them to act in a way that we want, they have total control and power to choose their own actions. What we can control is how we respond.

Good luck trying out these strategies. I'd love to know how you get on, please email me at suzie@thinkwisepwp.com with your successes and struggles.

Picture credit : Pixabay

Categories: : Supporting Children