How to Stop Sibling Squabbles


From the moment my second born entered the house, the oh-so-common inclination for competition ignited in my elder daughter’s heart. That hint of competition evolved over time into straightforward rivalry and into the struggles we all face when sharing space with people — even people we love. It’s hard on our selfish selves to share . . . to concede . . . to forgive . . . to hold our tongue.

In the midst of this daily training, it is easy for me to give in to fatigue and exasperation because encouraging people to choose kindness and selflessness while attempting to model that is a marathon experience. It’s weary work. It is hard for me to share . . . to concede . . . to forgive . . . to hold my tongue.

So, here’s to all the mamas like me trying to teach peace and conflict resolution on an regular basis: May we not give up but encourage each other to continue to be the voice of reason and respect for our families.

Top 10 Tips

Of course, my girls do not constantly argue, and they do love each other madly. But the squabbles and bickering matches pop up on the daily. Recently, I polled other moms for ideas on how to soften the harshness of sibling spats — and the frequency of such. The following are the best 10 tips from my “research.”

  1. Don’t disturb the house. “Moods” are the culprit behind many of the arguments between my girls. Parenting this is a balance between allowing space for feelings but not allowing those feelings to “upset the house.” When feelings begin to interrupt the harmony of the home, the person — yes, mama, too — needs to go to her room until she can be pleasant with others.
  2. Bickering? Here’s a broom. I can hear my grandmother now, “If all you can find to do is bicker, then here’s a broom.” Combat the bickering with chores. It’s a win-win.
  3. Work it out, please. Whether you are in the “if there’s no blood, let ’em go” camp or in the “crouch behind the door” eavesdropping camp, there is wisdom in letting kids work it out. It’s up to the parents what the parameters should be for when intervention happens.
  4. Dear John . . . . This gem came from one of my mom mentors: If the offense is serious, instruct the offender to write an apology letter. This goes well beyond the “say sorry” and causes the guilty party to think about what went wrong and how he can make a change. 
  5. Speaking of apologies . . . . Consider coaching kids to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness restores relationships as all parties participate, and it settles the incident. Everyone can move on, forgiven and restored. (You may even find this stretches and challenges the child who has to say, “I forgive you.” Great lessons and practice for everyone involved.)
  6. Kindness counts! If you’re like me, you exert a lot of effort and vocal exertion correcting behavior just to turn around and completely ignore positive behavior. Try some of that good old fashioned positive reinforcement. Whether it is a kindness chart or simply hugs and verbal accolades, make it a point to praise the positive behaviors and interactions.
  7. What I like about you. Siblings certain they can’t stand each other? Sometimes a perspective shift is in order! Try jogging their memories. Kiddos could write down five things they admire or like about their brothers / sisters . . . or you could even turn this into a group activity, each taking a turn sharing what he or she likes most about your family members.
  8. Silence is golden. Enact a “no talking to each other” rule. Its duration is up to you. This one is honestly just a little funny to me. Prediction: The children will eventually lose their minds not being able to talk to each other. Bursts of laughter may happen. Oh, they may LOVE it for a minute — or 15 — but they will come around, mark my words (pun intended).
  9. Quality time. This falls along the lines of “working it out” with a bit of a spin. When my two girls repeatedly argue in a short amount of time, the two are sent together to the laundry room. The location is not the important part. In our home, the laundry room is just off our family room / kitchen area, so I can hear what is going on in there but also give them some “alone time” together. The laundry room is also not the most fun room in the house, so I think that speeds the process along. The girls may come out of the laundry room when they have found a resolution to their problem and have restored their relationship. 
  10. Practice what you preach. Ouch. Enough said.
summer getaway
Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

Cheerleader, Not a Referee

The perspective I am fighting to keep — reminding myself over and over — is that I am a cheerleader, not a referee. This changes everything for me.

The truth is there are way more than 10 ways to parent arguing siblings. So much comes down to personalities and family dynamics and what’s important to you. Why must this be true? Why isn’t parenting more straightforward, right? As I polled some of my nearest and dearest, I’d also love to hear your wisdom on this issue. Please, please, please comment below with successes and failures.

Let’s be in this mothering thing together, okay? Help me lead my girls to value each other, cheer for each other, give to each other with open hands. In the meantime, I’m cheering for you.


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