Sibling Conflict…Can any Good Come of This?

Contributed by Melanie Miller, M.Ed.

I know that from my own siblings, I learned how to build great forts, make cities out of mud and dodge snowballs on a snowy day. I also learned how to walk away, how to stand up for myself, how to negotiate, how to act with compassion, how to be patient, and how to respect another’s point of view. Sometimes I learned these skills in times of peace and sometimes I learned them in times of conflict. As you prepare for the winter break and memorable family time; perhaps stuck in your house because of wet, cold weather, running out of activities to keep the kids occupied, counting the days until school starts again…..What will your children be learning from each other?

What good is conflict?
What are the messages that you grew up with around conflict? My guess is that they are not very pleasant. Think of how bear cubs, and lion cubs wrestle, taunt each other and pounce on each other. They learn necessary life skills, like hunting and self defense. So, if through the tussles, they are gaining much needed life skills, what are your kids learning from the bickering, the pushing the yelling, the wanting to be first? What if your children could learn that conflict is an opportunity to gain interpersonal skills that will someday help them negotiate the adult world of spouses, work, neighborhoods and hopefully raising your grandkids?

Why do kids argue and fight?
Is it really about the toy, who gets to go first or who got the bigger piece of cake? Ever notice that sibling conflict happens when you’re busy with something else…? Maybe it’s your child’s mistaken way of saying “notice me, involve me…spend some time with me.”

What can you do?…
See conflict as an opportunity to grow.
Minimize competition; avoid comparing siblings. Use encouragement instead of praise.
Avoid labeling or treating one as the bully, and one as the victim. (You never know exactly what happened.)
• Put kids “in the same boat”. If you ask one child what happened, ask the other one too.
Take time for Training. Children need to learn how to engage in healthy conflict. (Talk it out, walk away, use “I messages”, problem solve for solutions etc.)
Teach children “Stop means stop in our house”. When someone asks you to stop, you stop.

Something to work towards:
moving out of your children’s conflicts. You no longer need to be the referee!

Leave It: As the conflict begins, get down to their physical level…so that you’re not looming over them, be sure that you have eye contact and that they hear you. Then say “I notice you are having a conflict, I believe that the two of you can work it out. I’m going back into the kitchen to finish dinner. Please come let me know when you are done with your conflict.”
Live It: Once again, get to their level, gain eye contact. Then say “I notice you are having a conflict, I am going to sit down near you and read my book, (newspaper) while the two of you work it out. Avoid getting involved! This works great in the car. Just be sure to pull over before you begin reading and allow yourself some extra time.
Let ‘em go: Again, their level, eye contact. Say, “I notice you are having a conflict, you are welcome to discuss this, and I need you to do it somewhere other than the kitchen. Would you like to finish your conflict upstairs or outside?
Listen… Let both siblings share their story without interruption and without judgment.
Love ‘em…How about a group hug?! Get right down in the middle of their conflict and give them both a big hug!
Lighten up… Use humor, How important is it? Is this your problem or theirs?

Information for this article from Positive Discipline, Nelsen, Siblings Without Rivalry, Faber and Mazlish and the Positive Discipline Trainers’ Manual.

Melanie is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer and works as a Parent Educator and Grade School Counselor. She offers parenting classes in the Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond, WA area and is available as a Parent Coach, as well as a Trainer of professionals who work with families and in schools. You can contact her at or 206.579.2172. To find out more about Positive Discipline, visit or

Sound Discipline is a 501(c)(3) non profit. Your donations make a big difference and help us produce newsletters like this. You can donate at our website