3 Ways to Help Your Kids Navigate Sibling Conflict

by | Jun 7, 2022 | Anger & Outbursts, Parenting

We were talking to a friend recently about how he feels totally defeated when his two young boys fight. He often charges in like a rhino, yells at them and sends them to their rooms to “cool off.” The problem is, the clashes keep happening and he’s beyond frustrated that he can’t do anything about it.

We have all been there as parents, haven’t we? 

Here’s the good news: we don’t have to stay stuck in this cycle. With the right tools, children can thrive in their brother and sister relationships, and turn their clashes into bonding opportunities. Here are three ways to help your kids thrive through conflict.

1. Siblings Who Play Together Stay Together

Why would our kids want to work through their conflicts in a healthy way if they don’t truly enjoy one another? 

Siblings who are genuine friends have a greater chance of restoring their relationship after conflict because they desire to return to the sibling relationship they’ve enjoyed. 

So how are your kids doing in this area? 

Every relationship and age looks a little different. But what remains the same is that the stronger the sibling friendship bond, the easier it is to endure conflict. 

If your kids need a little encouragement in this area, it’s OK to foster what is already there or even to manufacture some fun. 

What do your children enjoy doing? Create opportunities where they can have a good time together. If they are young, encourage them to play silly games and use their imaginations. If your children are a bit older, allow time and space for them to go on adventures together. And always celebrate with them when they are doing well and having fun with one another!

2. Siblings Who Understand Their Special Relationship Will Protect It Through Thick And Thin

Why would our kids want to work through their conflicts in a healthy way if they don’t truly understand the precious treasure their sibling relationship is?

In our family, we have developed a culture where we continually talk about the significance of our children’s sibling relationships. We often say things like, “In our family, we are safe. We can’t control what goes on out there — on the playground, at school, or with other friends — but we can control what goes on in here. In our home, we always protect each other’s hearts.” 

Since they were little, we have told our boys, “You aren’t just friends. You are way more special. You are brothers.” These statements can be made anywhere and at any time — while driving, saying goodnight or at the dinner table. The key is to talk about their special relationship often and whenever possible. 

What truths can you routinely say to your children that will strengthen their connection?

The statements that you make will become what your children believe about each other. And the words you choose will impact the inevitable times of sibling conflict. 

These first two principles are crucial. Because if your kids don’t enjoy spending time with one another, and if they don’t understand how special their relationship is, they won’t want to have anything to do with the third and more hands-on principle. 

3. Full Sibling Reconciliation Is Always Worth The Time and Effort

In every relationship, there will be conflict. Siblings are no different. In fact, the nature of growing up together provides the perfect breeding ground for conflict!

Our goal isn’t to eliminate sibling conflict. Rather, our aim is to reframe our view of conflict and see it as an opportunity to strengthen the sibling bond. The more we work at this as parents with our kids — and not short circuit the reconciliation process — the more everyone will reap the lifelong benefits.

Often the only goal we have as parents during a sibling meltdown is to have peace and order restored in our home as quickly as possible. Understandable! We are guilty of this too. However, with this short-sighted view, we fail to help our children develop some of life’s most pivotal skills: conflict resolution and reconciliation. 

Here are four steps to resolving sibling conflict that have made a world of difference in our home. 

1. Calm: The first step in resolving conflict is to help our kids calm down. Because as emotions run high, it is proven biologically that thinking is impaired. Settling those high emotions helps everyone think more clearly. 

2. Understand: Everyone needs to feel understood, and our kids are no different. Understanding happens through careful listening. This requires time and patience. Understanding between siblings doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with one another, but it does require caring enough to hear each other’s perspective to gain insight on the big picture.

3. Solve: As parents, we often become good at solving problems for the family. The problem is we can be so quick to solve our kids’ conflicts, we take away their ownership and responsibility. Instead we can coach our kids through asking questions. Let them come up with their own solutions to the problem and help them see they are really good at it. Good questions will draw out creative and healthy problem solving abilities from our kids.* 

4. Celebrate: Going through the full sibling reconciliation process is a lot of work! And it’s good to celebrate once that hard work is done. Depending on the age, it could be a high-five or a hug or even a simple “Well done!” from a beaming parent. Sometimes after going through a larger conflict, we have even celebrated with ice-cream.

Learn more about the four steps to the sibling reconciliation process on the FamilyLife Parenting Conference Workshop “Turning Clashes Into Character.”

*This third principle was adapted from the Connected Families Sibling Conflict Course, which we highly recommend.