Why Siblings Fight

“Ahh, the sweet sound of siblings fighting” said no parent ever!

Siblings who argue, tease each other mercilessly, even resort to fighting physically are a cause of major frustration for parents who are constantly acting as referee.

Although jealousy is what often what comes to mind when siblings fight, it is not the only reason. Sibling squabbles start after the second child is born and continues until both grow old enough to leave the home. Even then, arguments among adult siblings are still not uncommon.


The different needs of children as they grow can affect how they relate to siblings. For example, toddlers are overly possessive of toys and even parents, and seeing a brother and sister playing with a toy they consider their own may trigger this possessiveness. School age children typically have a strong sense of fairness and equality and seeing (real or imagined) preferential treatment coming from their parents will likely bother them. Teenagers are at an age when they want to be independent and develop a separate identity from the family and they may resent having to interact with or take care of their younger siblings.


There are times when, even if they are not aware of it, parents give unequal treatment to their children. The perception that parents treat one child differently from another may trigger the child’s anger at the favored sibling.


There are times when parents need to focus more attention on one child, such as in cases when a child is sick or recuperating from an injury. Other children may act out to get the attention of the parents.


There are children who are especially clingy or want to stay with their mom most of the time. Other children may perceive this as the parent giving more attention to the other child and this could trigger anger and acting out from other siblings.


The kind of role models that children are exposed to can also influence how children interact with siblings. If the parents resolve conflicts by talking sensibly and listening to each other, children can pick up on this and adopt this way of interacting with their brothers and sisters. If the parents and other visible role models argue loudly and are physical when resolving conflicts, this is often the kind of behavior that can be adopted by children.


Try to resist the temptation to step in when kids are fighting, unless there is danger of physical harm. Parents can inadvertently give signals of placing one child as more important than the other when trying to resolve a conflict and this can add fuel to the fire. Parents should allow kids to resolve conflicts by themselves. The possibility of name calling can be reduced if parents coach the kids in how they should use words when having a conflict with their siblings. It is important to learn how to work with kids when trying to resolve a conflict with them. The best way to go about this is to allow the kids to cool down before trying to resolve the conflict and to not put too much emphasis on who is to blame. Help them reach a suitable compromise. For example, when fighting over one toy, devise a way for both to play with the toy together instead.

Help them to use appropriate words (for their age) to express their frustration. Instead of name calling, explain how their siblings behaviour makes them feel. Instead of acting out physically, instruct them to use their words.

There’s no magic bullet to ensure ongoing peace among siblings, but if parents can keep their own cool and see this as an opportunity to coach their kids through conflict then fights should lessen and lessen in intensity.

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