One of the most universal issues we face as parents when raising our kids is coping with the conflict between siblings. It appears that no combination of situational factors can naturally prevent our kids from butting heads with their siblings. Therefore, instead of decrying the situation and wishing that they would get along, it would serve us better to try to understand why these fights take place, recognize that the conflicts do have some benefits as well, and to develop some strategies to prevent/deescalate conflicts in the future. 

Why do kids fight with their siblings? 

One of the main reasons our approaches to stopping conflicts between siblings often fail is because we don’t properly understand the root causes of the issue. 

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are some of the most common causes of sibling rivalries: 

  1. To get your attention: this is probably the most common cause of sibling conflict. Whether a child is the eldest, youngest, or is a middle child, they are prone to feeling as though they are receiving less attention than their siblings which may spur them to lash out. 
  1. Major life transitionsoften major life transitions (starting at a new school, moving, etc.) can cause a child to feel distress and they may not know of a healthy way to process or release their anger, so they end up resorting to releasing their anger in a way that is familiar to them: fighting with their siblings. 
  1. Family dynamics: extreme parenting styles can trigger children into fighting with their siblings. Research shows that strict/overly harsh parenting style can cause children to fight more because the children see aggression being used to solve problems. On the other hand, an overly lax parenting style can make children feel overlooked and lost which may cause them to act against siblings to get their parents attention. 
  1. Boredomthis is the least serious cause of sibling rivalry. Often when siblings are put into situations where they don’t feel entertained, they may fight just to pass the time. 

Benefits of a sibling rivalry 

Although conflicts between siblings are usually portrayed in a negative light, what many people don’t realize is that sibling rivalries can be quite beneficial. Sibling rivalries can: 

  1. Teach kids how to resolve conflicts: fights between siblings serve as an excellent learning opportunity for children to learn skills useful for conflict resolution such as compromising, negotiating agreements, dealing with difficult personalities, etc. 
  1. Result in increased motivation: if siblings end up participating in the same activity and there is an underlying animosity, they may try to outdo each other and will try to higher levels of performance as a result. 
  1. Teach kids how advocate for themselves: sibling conflicts resulting in kids learning how to stand up for themselves, how to identify their needs, and how to communicate their needs under less than friendly circumstances 

How to prevent fights 

Even though, siblings fighting is basically inevitable, it is important to note that there are ways to reduce the frequency of those conflicts erupting. Some of these measures include:  

  1. Actively monitor each child’s needssince many sibling conflicts start because a child feels overlooked by their parents, by giving each of child individualized attention we make them feel more valued and they are therefore less prone to instigating conflict. 
  1. Alleviate pain points ahead of timeone of the best to stop kids from fighting is to try to reduce the likelihood of triggering situations from occurring. For example, if one of your children gets angry because while they play with their toys in the living room their sibling watches TV at a high volume, you could move the toys to a different area so that the kids don’t butt heads. 
  1. Set a good examplechildren tend to model a lot of their behaviors after their parents, so it is important that you act like a good role model when dealing with potentially contentious situations; if your kids see you respectfully communicating to deescalate situations, they are more likely to do that when dealing with their siblings. 
  1. Encourage a group mindset: make it clear that your kids are all in it together by rewarding/penalizing them based on their ability to work together; they are less likely to fight if they feel like team. 

How to manage a fight that’s currently happening 

Over the years, parents have come up with several different ways to defuse fights between siblings. Here are some the most popular used methods. 

  1. Separate themthis is probably the best approach to use when the conflict between the kids is getting physically dangerous. Giving the kids space to cool down will allow them to get in a much better headspace to resolve the issue at hand. 
  1. Put them outside: ejecting the two from the house until they resolve their conflict can be an effective approach because the collective goal of wanting to be in the house will likely expedite their conflict resolution process. 
  1. Get them to hold hands: although this approach may sound odd, parents have attested to the fact that the awkwardness of making kids hold hands encourages them to put things behind them very quickly. 
  1. Deal with them one on one: sibling conflicts are often exacerbated when parents try to mediate the fights and one child object to how the other child described what happened or to the punishment their sibling received. By dealing with them separately it becomes much easier to understand what happened and to think of the appropriate consequences