Dealing with Battling Siblings- 10 ‘top tips’ and some principles to guide you!!

There are four key concepts that will help to reduce sibling battles in any family if they are reinforced and developed. These are:

  • Each child feels equally loved, liked and cared for
  • Each child feels uniquely valued for their own personality, qualities and abilities
  • Each child feels part of a strongly identified family unit
  • Each child feels a shared bond with siblings

Here are my top 10 tips for helping these happen!

1. Let them sort their own battles out. If you keep stepping in they’ll resent each other more. If you do step in use a mediation approach rather than a disciplinarian one. You may need SOME boundaries however such as no physical aggression. If things get too heated simply send them out to their rooms.

2. Find ways to reinforce family identity whenever possible. ‘We are the Martins and we do it this way’. (Even if it sounds daft at first.)

3. Have regular whole family meetings where points of irritation can be discussed openly and new boundaries decided upon. Issues such as borrowing clothes or going into each others’ bedrooms are best discussed here.

4. Encourage all family members to praise and encourage each other generously by setting the example and praising them when they do it.

5. If one sibling is picking on the other/s more than usual they are probably feeling less loved and valued by you. Find times and ways to reassure them how much they are loved.

6. Find ways to allow for a little controlled rivalry and competition between family members but make sure all have the chance to shine. Making things – from cakes to Christmas Cards doesn’t have to be just for the pre teen, games, sports, new challenges even setting up the family website and having their own page can be good ways to help them get a sense of perspective about each other.

7. Some hard and fast groundrules or family rules can make endless negotiations unnecessary such as bed times, hours of TV watching and who gets to choose, turn taking for chores or clear demarcation of responsibilities. These can be regularly reviewed but should be rigidly adhered to once set.

8. Including siblings in decision making about their brother/sister such as “James has asked to be allowed to stay out till 11.30 on Wednesday but I’m not sure. What do you think?” of an older sibling or, “Lucy wants a sleepover next week with 6 of her friends but I’m not sure. What do you think?” from a younger one. (The older siblings contribute their experience, younger their opinion on matters that may influence or affect them).

9. Do not insist that siblings spend ‘own’ time together but encourage it by giving them things they can do if they do them together e.g. going to the cinema. If childcare is part of the expectation for an older sibling, treat it as a job in the way you would with an external babysitter. Request it formally and put it in their diary. Negotiate a fair number of hours per week etc.

10. If putting on a special event for one child, (birthday party etc,) involve the others in the planning and execution. Make sure they get recognition for the work they did from their sibling.

The Four Step Approach to Mediation

Separate fighting siblings and leave them to become calm before attempting to mediate.
First we sit them down and set some rules such as listen until they have finished or no swearing!.

1.) We use active listening to find out what each person is thinking and feeling – what the problem is. We ask each person in turn.

2.) We restate the problem for each person and let them know that we have understood their point of view and their feelings.

3.) We ask each person what they would like to happen now. If they are still expressing strong emotion keep letting them know that this is registering. “I can hear that you feel very angry at your sister. What would you like to happen now though?”

4.) Negotiate an OK solution for everybody that is fair and everyone agrees to. Perhaps also agree a consequence should anyone break the agreement.

Sometimes we might ask them to agree in advance to a review at a later time – perhaps the next day – to see if the solution is working or to change it a bit.

© Beatrice Killam |


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