The #1 Mistake Parents Make with Sibling Rivalry

The #1 mistake I see parents make when dealing with child conflicts is focusing on how to STOP the conflict rather than focusing on TEACHING the soft skills necessary to get along with people who are different from us.

(If you were hoping for strategies for dealing with the conflicts when they happen – read this.)

When dealing with sibling rivalry, parents spend their time REACTING to the conflict:

    “Stop Fighting!”
    “Why can’t you just share?!”
    “Apologize right now!”

And then bang their head against the wall saying, ‘why do they always fight’?

Here’s the missing link: What are you doing when they’re NOT fighting to help them understand each other better to prevent the fighting – or better yet, to bring them closer?

The only difference between us parents and the kids is we’ve (hopefully) learned how to adapt, cope, manage our emotions and accept that everyone is different (and that’s a good thing). One of our responsibilities is to teach our kids to understand themselves which will make it possible for them to understand and accept others and this is the beginning of helping siblings get along.

Here’s a scenario: your youngest child is a morning lark. He loves to wake early and is charged as soon as his feet hit the floor. Your older son is a night owl and would prefer his mornings via a whisper. They’re different. Not adversaries, just different.

Obviously, there is the potential for these two, very different humans, to clash during the morning routine (or evening routine for that matter) and it wouldn’t surprise most parents when a punch, threat, pinch, or nasty word gets shared between the two. Remember Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple? Like your morning lark and night owl, they were two people with contrasting lifestyles. As the viewer, you always knew when conflict would erupt. The signs were everywhere! It’s no different in your home.

It’s not that your kids don’t like each other. It’s that they don’t know why on earth the other person doesn’t want to do things the way they do. Your morning lark doesn’t understand why he’s totally wrecking his brother’s morning. He thinks his brother is ABSURD for not wanting to play at 6:30am in the morning!

But what if he realized his brother wasn’t mad at him, he was simply tired and not ready to play? Maybe your little morning lark would pipe it down until his brother showed signs of interest. Likewise, maybe your late riser would be more thoughtful about a sibling who was happy and peppy in the morning if he understood his brother’s natural rhythm.

Your role as a parent is not to “stop the fighting”. Your role is to support the kids in understanding themselves so they can begin to piece the puzzle together for how to coexist with others who think and act differently.


  • Make observations coupled with questions – “Have you ever noticed that you wake up with a smile on your face and loads of energy? Have you noticed that your brother is very quiet in the morning?” If we make observations and ask curious questions, we can help our kids learn more about themselves and see their siblings in a new light.
  • Never try to teach a lesson during a fight. Common sense tells us we’re at our worst when we’ve been through a battle. It’s no different for the kids. When things come back into balance is the best time to address a conflict. Family meetings are the PERFECT time to discuss the issues that arise during the week.
  • Pay attention to when things go well. Encourage! Appreciate! And celebrate the growth!

2 thoughts on “The #1 Mistake Parents Make with Sibling Rivalry

  1. I have 4 boys and three of them continuously gang up on the second oldest. He definitely has been tagged as the emotional kid and they seem to get some kind of joy out of making him upset. I would just like them to be nice to each other. He does stand up for himself if I ignore it, but ends up getting frustrated and angry and freaking out because his siblings all team up. Help!

  2. I like the idea of sharing observations coupled with questions. So, talking to your second oldest. “I notice that your three brothers like to gang up on you and give you a hard time. What is that like?” Listen. “What are your thoughts about what they get out of doing it?” Listen. “What part do you play in this continuing?” Listen. “Would you like it to be different?” Listen. “Can we explore some things you can do to make it different?” If your son is totally into being a victim then he’ll want to blame his brothers and not see his part. Then you teach about this–he is not a victim but has choices. This becomes the important learning. Hopefully, he’s open to learning. If not he may need to continue suffering until he’s willing to learn what he is doing and what new choices he has to make this different. You can point that out and let him know that you’ll be happy to talk to him about some different options when he’s ready. This is a life lesson bigger than being picked on by his brothers. It is about becoming more aware and taking responsibility for himself. His world (brothers) is giving him an opportunity to do that.

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