How Do You Handle Sibling Rivalry?

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Recently I received a parenting question via email which I’d like to answer with a post.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some wisdom that I’ve gathered over the years. If you have some advice for MG, please feel free to post it!

Dear MS,

My children are constantly fighting amongst themselves.  I guess you could say it’s sibling rivalry, but it’s driving me crazy!  Help!  What can I do to stop the insanity?


Some amount of “fighting” is to be expected amongst siblings.  However, when the “fighting” gets verbally abusive or physical, or if it happens regularly, it’s time to intervene.

For the most part, I try to let my children resolve their quarrels amongst themselves.  My reasoning is this: I will not always be here to “fix” their problems for them. They will need to discuss and work through problems the rest of their lives, so they’d better get lots of practice now!  Also, I’ve noticed that when I step in to resolve quarreling, it makes the situation worse at times. When the kids are trading insults or the fighting becomes physical, I get involved and there are consequences for the poor behavior. It is never ok to hurt someone either with words or actions!

We have a chart on the wall with household rules written down and the consequences for breaking a rule.  The rules and consequences have all been agreed upon by all of the family members.  This has actually helped!

I have also noticed that children learn by example.  It’s difficult, but I try to model the kind of behavior for my children that I would like to see from them.  When I fail to model good behavior, I am quick to apologize. 

When the children were very young, I used a reward system with candy.  Every child started off with a jar of so many candies.  If they were good, they got a candy.  If they were nasty to their sibling, candy got taken away from the offending child and given to the child who had been offended.  If they got so many candies in their jar at the end of the week, they could take a trip to the dollar store to buy whatever they wanted!  It did work.  I know of people who use this same system for their teens, but they use money instead of candy.  After so many weeks of good behavior, teens may be rewarded with a trip to the movies or another outing.

It may take a while for you to see results using the above suggestions.  Changing behavior is a difficult thing and requires lots of patience and perseverance.  If you still don’t notice any positive improvement in your children’s attitude or behaviors even after some intervention, I’d suggest looking into counseling with a therapist who is experienced in dealing with family issues.

Good luck!


[…] upcoming year?  Younger children may promise to clean their rooms or to treat their siblings with respect.  Older children may resolve to eat less junk food, or watch less TV.  Perhaps even to text […]

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