Help Siblings Be Friends, Not Foes

  • Control the Chaos
    Control the Chaos
    "Mom, she won't stop touching me!" "Dad, he stole my video game!" Any parent with more than one child will inevitably experience some sibling fighting and rivalry ... sometimes quite a lot of it. But even though it's normal, there are ways you can control the chaos.
  • Smiling girls eating pretzels in bedroom
    What Causes Rivalry?
    Several factors can influence the relationships between and among siblings:

    1. Personality

    2. Age and maturity

    3. Gender—same-sex siblings can be more competitive than opposite-sex ones

    4. Birth order—older siblings may be bossy or younger ones clingy

    5. Birth spacing—children less than two years apart have more conflicts than those further apart

  • two-boys-using-tablet
    Conflict Can Be Good
    Not only is it normal for siblings to argue with one another, but it also can be positive. Children are developing their social skills and can help one another:

    • Learn to compromise and share

    • Respect each other's boundaries

    • Control their anger

    • Practice empathy

  • Happy Family Day
    Be a Role Model
    To help your children learn these healthy life skills, model good communication and conflict-resolution strategies within the family, so they can copy your example.
  • Let Them Work It Out
    Let Them Work It Out
    Another way to help them learn how to get along: Stay out of a crisis as much as possible—let them work it out for themselves. You'll need to intervene if the situation escalates or violence breaks out. But even then, you can separate the children and instruct them to return with at least one idea each about how to solve the conflict.
  • Avoid Taking Sides
    Avoid Taking Sides
    As you intervene, remember that each child is different and has different needs. Avoid taking sides and be as fair as possible.
  • father with children at restaurant
    Resist Making Comparisons
    It's natural to notice if one sibling is better at sharing than the other, for example, but don't point this out in front of them. Jealousy is often a factor between siblings, and this can intensify it. Instead, focus on the behavior that needs improving.
  • sister-and-brother-sitting-together
    Cultivate Empathy
    Encourage children to think about what they are feeling, and ask them to imagine what someone else may be feeling. Reinforce the "golden rule."
  • Depression in Children and Teens
    Set Clear Boundaries
    Make sure children understand the consequences of their behavior—and follow through with punishments consistently and fairly.
  • Provide Privacy
    Provide Privacy
    Define personal space. You can also take steps ahead of time to avoid potential conflicts. For example, make sure each child has some private space—even if it's just a corner or small nook—where he or she can retreat to be alone or cool off from a conflict.
  • Thoughtful child boy or kid on playground
    Make Rules
    Children tend to behave better when they know the boundaries. Establish house rules so children know ahead of time what behavior is not acceptable, and enforce those rules consistently.
  • Stick to Schedules
    Stick to Schedules
    Make a plan. If a certain item like a computer or video game is frequently the source of fights, work with your children to set up a schedule for using it.
  • Children Playing Soccer With Parents
    Plan Family Outings
    Reinforce the sibling bond. Remind siblings that a healthy relationship isn't just avoiding fights, but sharing good times together too. Plan fun family outings for younger siblings, and encourage older siblings to do fun things together on their own. Talk about the special tie between sisters and brothers, and read them stories that emphasize that message.
  • Multi-ethnic teenaged couple eating candied apples
    An Ideal Outcome
    Taking these steps will not lead to perfect peace in your family. But it can set up good behavior patterns that can help your children be both siblings and friends. It's a powerful relationship that will last a lifetime.
Help Siblings Be Friends, Not Foes

About The Author

  1. Sibling Rivalry: Understanding and Fostering Healthy Sibling Relationships. NIH Work/Life Center. Office of Human Resources. National Institutes of Health.
  2. Parenting Corner Q and A: Discipline. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  3. Parenting Corner Q and A: Sibling Rivalry. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  4. Sisters and Brothers., National Women's Health Information Center. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. Tips for Avoiding Fights with Your Sister(s) or Brother(s). National Women's Health Information Center. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.