October 13, 2019

For Sibling Battles, Be a Sportscaster, Not a Referee

“Parents in my psychotherapy practice often ask how to make sibling conflict stop.

Understandably, they want the bickering, teasing, aggression and cries of “no fair” to end. But one of the best ways to dial up sibling love is not to squash conflicts, but to learn how to use them. Research supports this, and I’ve seen it in action.

For the most part, sibling conflict is normal and to be expected: Home is a safe testing ground for social dynamics. Siblings often want to play together, but it takes skill and patience when they’re different ages.

It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in front of you, without judgment and without taking sides. This simple practice lets your kids know you acknowledge and respect their struggles, but you’re not immediately jumping in with a solution.

Example: You hear shouting and walk in to find your kids looking upset with each other.

Instead of: Hey settle down in here! Jack, what did you do this time?

Say: I’m hearing really loud voices in here. Alex, you’re looking mad with your hands on your hips. Jack, you’re laughing. There’s a pack of Pokémon cards on the floor.”

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