Do you have any siblings? If yes, do you ever fight? O.K., dumb question … What do you and your siblings fight about when you have conflicts?
How do your parents respond to these conflicts? Do they help to resolve these situations? Or do they make them worse?
Parents in my psychotherapy practice often ask how to make sibling conflict stop.
Understandably, they want the bickering, teasing, aggression and cries of “no fair” to end. But one of the best ways to dial up sibling love is not to squash conflicts, but to learn how to use them. Research supports this, and I’ve seen it in action.
For the most part, sibling conflict is normal and to be expected: Home is a safe testing ground for social dynamics. Siblings often want to play together, but it takes skill and patience when they’re different ages.
Be a Sportscaster
It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in front of you, without judgment and without taking sides. This simple practice lets your kids know you acknowledge and respect their struggles, but you’re not immediately jumping in with a solution.
Example: You hear shouting and walk in to find your kids looking upset with each other.
Instead of: Hey settle down in here! Jack, what did you do this time?
Say: I’m hearing really loud voices in here. Alex, you’re looking mad with your hands on your hips. Jack, you’re laughing. There’s a pack of Pokémon cards on the floor.
Narrate what’s happening. Repeat back what your kids say to you. Try to be neutral.
Ah, got it. You’re telling me he always takes the best cards. You feel like he’s the boss all the time. I see. Jack, you wanted to play the game you usually play and Alex wanted to change it up. Alex, you got frustrated and threw the cards. Am I missing anything?
When you repeat back their grievances, it helps kids start to hear each other and work on their own solutions.
Let Siblings Be Mad at Each Other
It’s a knee-jerk reaction for many parents to insist siblings be nice to each other, and try to smooth over tricky or unpleasant feelings. But siblings can feel love, anger, frustration and connection to each other all within the same day. If they get the message that we accept only their sunny feelings, they will either put more oomph into the darker ones so we hear them, or repress and hide them from us. Neither of these is a good outcome. Accept the negative feelings without judgment. The warm, loving ones will naturally resurface.
Example: He always ruins everything! I hate him!
Instead of: Hey, watch it. You need to calm down and apologize to your brother.
Say: Wow, you are super angry at him. What was it that made you this mad?
Example: I don’t want this new baby. I wish she were never born.
Instead of: Oh, you don’t mean that. You’re going to love her, you’ll see.
Say: I get it. Things feel so different now. It used to be just the three of us and it seems like everything changed. I feel it too sometimes!