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Parent’s Guide to Helping Teens Through Sibling Relational Problems

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Dealing with sibling fights can be a challenging aspect of parenting. Sibling conflicts are a common part of family life, but they can sometimes turn the household upside down. Whether it’s arguing over resources, feeling jealous, or just not getting along, these fights between brothers and sisters are more than just simple disagreements. They’re an important part of growing up and learning how to get along with others. 

Navigating these dynamics demands a nuanced and empathetic approach. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why siblings often end up fighting, covering everything from age differences to feelings of favoritism. We’ll also share some practical tips for parents on how to help their kids work through these conflicts and build stronger, more loving relationships with each other.

Sibling Relational Problems

Understanding Sibling Relational Problems

Sibling relational problems range from frequent arguments and physical aggression to jealousy and emotional changes. These conflicts can stem from various factors, including personality differences, competition for attention, and changes in family dynamics.

Signs and Common Sibling Conflicts

Noticing a lot more fighting happening in your house? Common signs of sibling conflicts include:

  • Frequent arguments and physical aggression.
  • Verbal insults, tattling, and blaming.
  • Competitive behavior, jealousy, and withdrawal.
  • Property disputes and refusal to share.
  • Undermining each other and emotional changes.
  • Unresolved issues leading to physical or emotional harm.
  • Deterioration in the sibling bond.

What Causes Sibling Issues? 

Why do children fight so much? Sometimes, it’s just a normal part of growing up, but occasionally sibling conflicts can arise from deeper underlying issues. Understanding these causes is crucial in addressing and resolving these issues effectively. Here are some common reasons siblings fight:

  1. Age Differences: Variations in age can lead to differing needs, interests, and levels of maturity, often causing misunderstandings and conflicts between siblings.
  2. Limited Resources: Competition for shared resources like time, attention, or physical items can spark disputes among siblings.
  3. Parental Favoritism: Perceived or real favoritism by parents can create feelings of jealousy and resentment, fueling sibling rivalry.
  4. Personality Differences: Clashing personalities or differing temperaments can lead to frequent disagreements and misunderstandings.
  5. Sibling Rivalry: A natural competitive dynamic can sometimes escalate into more serious conflicts.
  6. Competition for Attention: Children often vie for their parents’ attention, which can lead to rivalry and conflict.
  7. Jealousy: Feelings of envy over perceived inequalities can be a significant source of tension.
  8. Unresolved Past Conflicts: Past disagreements or hurts that haven’t been effectively resolved can linger and exacerbate new conflicts.
  9. Lack of Communication Skills: Inability to express feelings and needs healthily can lead to misunderstandings and escalated conflicts.
  10. Different Interests and Hobbies: Differing preferences can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation for each other’s activities.
  11. Changes in Family Dynamics: Events like the birth of new siblings, divorce, or remarriage can disrupt established dynamics and create stress.
  12. Peer Influences: Outside influences, including friends’ attitudes and behaviors, can impact sibling relationships.
  13. Imitation of Adult Behaviors: Children often mimic the conflict resolution styles and communication patterns they observe in their parents or other adults.
  14. Misunderstandings: Simple misunderstandings can quickly escalate into conflicts if not addressed promptly and effectively.
  15. Cultural or Gender Norms: Societal or cultural expectations related to gender roles and behavior can influence sibling interactions.
  16. Parental Modeling of Conflict Resolution: The way parents handle conflict sets a precedent for how children manage disagreements.
  17. Stress and External Pressures: External pressures, such as academic expectations or social challenges, can increase tension at home.
  18. Power Struggles: Siblings may engage in power struggles as they seek independence and autonomy.
  19. Perceived Inequity: Feelings of unfairness, whether in responsibilities, privileges, or parental attention, can lead to resentment.
  20. Limited Personal Space: A lack of private space can lead to frustration and conflicts over boundaries.

Brothers vs. Sisters Fighting

Sisters Fighting

When sisters fight, it can involve verbal insults, emotional manipulation, and rivalry over attention or resources. Understanding their individual needs and encouraging open communication are key to resolving these conflicts.

Brothers Fighting

Conflict between brothers can sometimes escalate to physical aggression. It’s important to address the underlying causes, such as competition or stress, and teach them healthy ways to express their emotions and resolve disagreements.

Brother and Sister Fighting 

Sibling fights between brothers and sisters can involve a mix of verbal and physical conflicts, often rooted in misunderstandings or different interests. Promoting empathy and mutual respect is crucial in these dynamics.

The Importance of Parental Intervention

Parental intervention is crucial in managing sibling conflicts. It involves understanding the root causes, fostering communication, and guiding children towards resolving their issues constructively. Below are a few tips for addressing the situation. At Evolve, we also offer several types of treatment for families to work through their issues and communicate more effectively. 

happy siblings

Effective Communication Strategies

Encourage siblings to express their feelings, thoughts, and needs openly but respectfully. This involves using “I” statements to convey how they feel without blaming the other. Teach them to listen to each other without interrupting. Active listening involves acknowledging what the other person has said and showing understanding, which can significantly reduce misunderstandings and conflicts. Lastly, guide siblings to discuss issues without resorting to insults, aggression, or raised voices. This includes learning to take a break from the conversation if emotions become too heated.

Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills

Here are a few ways you can teach your kids to resolve conflicts:

Negotiation and Compromise: Show siblings how to negotiate and find middle ground. This involves each party giving up something to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

Problem-Solving Techniques: Teach problem-solving steps such as identifying the issue, brainstorming solutions together, and agreeing on a plan to move forward.

Fair Play Rules: Establish rules for fair conflict resolution, such as no name-calling, taking turns to speak, and agreeing to disagree when necessary.

Setting Boundaries and Rules

Boundary-setting starts at home. Here’s how to teach your kids how to set limits:

Consistency and Fairness: Ensure that the rules and boundaries set for siblings are consistent and fair. Apply them uniformly to prevent feelings of bias or favoritism.

Clear Expectations: Clearly define what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. This can include how to respectfully share, communicate, and cooperate.

Consequences for Rule-Breaking: Establish and enforce appropriate consequences for breaking rules. These should be proportional, fair, and consistently applied.

Encouraging Empathy

Empathy is a crucial life skill, and it can be developed at home. Help siblings to understand and empathize with each other’s perspectives and feelings. This can be through role-playing exercises or discussing how certain actions make them feel. Be available to step in and provide guidance when conflicts escalate beyond their ability to resolve.

Addressing Age and Developmental Differences

As a parent, it’s crucial to keep in mind the ages of your children and how that could be impacting their level of skill in communication. Recognize that siblings of different ages and developmental stages have varying needs and capabilities. Adjust expectations and conflict resolution strategies to be age-appropriate. You can use age differences as an opportunity to teach older siblings about patience and understanding, while younger siblings can learn about respect and cooperation.

Therapy and the Role of Family Dynamics

Family therapy is a highly effective way of addressing various challenges within family dynamics. At Evolve, we offer a range of treatment types tailored to meet specific needs. One such approach is family systems therapy, which views the family as an interconnected unit where the actions and emotions of one member affect the entire system. This method focuses on understanding the roles each family member plays and how these roles contribute to family dynamics, particularly in situations involving treatment-resistant adolescents. These adolescents, who may not respond to traditional therapy methods, often require a more holistic approach. Family systems therapy addresses this by considering the impact of family interactions on the individual’s behavior and mental health. It seeks to improve communication, resolve conflicts, and foster a supportive environment, crucial for adolescents who might be exhibiting signs of withdrawal or defiance.

In dealing with violence and aggression in teens, a clinical approach to family therapy can be particularly effective. This approach delves into the root causes of aggressive behavior, exploring factors like family history, parental styles, and underlying psychological issues. Therapists work with families to identify patterns of behavior that may contribute to or exacerbate the teen’s aggression. By understanding these patterns, families can develop strategies to de-escalate conflicts, establish boundaries, and improve overall family functioning. Techniques such as behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are often employed. These methods help teens understand and manage their emotions, develop coping skills, and improve their interactions with family members. The goal is to transform negative behaviors into positive outcomes, fostering a more peaceful and cooperative family environment.

A clinical approach to family therapy is not just about addressing immediate behavioral issues but also about building long-term resilience within the family unit. Therapists often employ strategies to strengthen the family bond, enhance mutual understanding, and develop effective communication skills. This is particularly important in families with treatment-resistant adolescents, where conventional communication and intervention strategies might have failed. The therapist acts as a mediator and guide, helping the family navigate through complex emotions and conflicts. This process not only aids in resolving current issues but also equips families with tools to handle future challenges. By focusing on the family as a whole, rather than just the individual, this approach promotes lasting change and fosters a healthier, more harmonious family life.

How To Help Your Children Foster A Healthy Relationship With Each Other 

Here are a few things you can work on to help foster a healthier home environment:

  1. Modeling Behavior: Children learn by example. Model healthy communication and conflict resolution in your relationships.
  2. Managing Family Stress: High levels of family stress can exacerbate sibling conflicts. Work on managing stress through family activities, open discussions, and seeking external support if needed.
  3. Inclusive Family Environment: Create a family culture where everyone feels heard and valued. Regular family meetings can be a great platform for discussing issues and reinforcing positive dynamics.

Need More Help?

This guide is designed to help you identify and problem-solve sibling fights, but sometimes families require extra help. Evolve offers specialized support to help your teen develop healthy relationships. Through family therapy and clinical approaches, we address underlying issues, teach effective communication and conflict resolution skills, and promote a supportive family environment. If you’re facing challenges with sibling relational problems, contact Evolve for expert guidance and support.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Sibling Relational Problems 

Are sibling conflicts a normal part of growing up?

Sibling conflicts are sometimes a normal and common part of growing up, often serving as a way for children to learn social skills and boundaries. These conflicts can help siblings develop negotiation skills, empathy, and understand the importance of relationships. In some cases, however, sibling conflicts may be a symptom of a deeper underlying issue.

When should parents intervene in sibling conflicts?

Parents should intervene in sibling conflicts when they escalate to physical violence, emotional abuse, or disrupt family harmony. It’s important to step in if the conflict becomes harmful or if siblings are unable to resolve the issue on their own.

How can I tell if my children’s sibling rivalry is excessive?

Sibling rivalry is excessive if it involves constant arguments, physical altercations, or if it significantly affects the emotional wellbeing of any child involved. Frequent intense conflicts that disrupt daily family life or lead to lasting resentment are also signs of excessive rivalry.

What are the potential long-term effects of unresolved sibling conflicts?

Unresolved sibling conflicts can lead to long-term relationship damage, persistent feelings of resentment, and can negatively impact a child’s emotional and social development. These conflicts can also reinforce negative behavior patterns that affect interactions outside the family.

How can I encourage my children to get along better?

Encourage your children to get along by fostering empathy, teaching conflict resolution skills, and creating opportunities for them to engage in cooperative activities. Regular family meetings to discuss feelings and conflicts can also promote understanding and better relationships.

Is it common for siblings to go through phases of closeness and distance?

Absolutely. It’s common for siblings to experience phases of closeness and distance as they grow and their interests and personalities evolve. These changes are a normal part of individual development and family dynamics.

How can parents prevent favoritism among their children?

Prevent favoritism by ensuring each child receives equal attention, recognition, and support based on their individual needs and interests. It’s important to celebrate each child’s achievements and uniqueness without comparison.

Should I let my children work out their conflicts on their own?

It’s often beneficial to let children work out their conflicts on their own to develop conflict resolution skills, but parents should intervene if the conflict escalates or becomes harmful. Guidance and mediation may be necessary if siblings struggle to resolve issues independently.

What is the impact of age differences between siblings on their relationships?

Age differences can create diverse needs and levels of maturity, which may lead to misunderstandings or conflicts. However, they can also enrich relationships by offering opportunities for older siblings to teach and nurture younger ones.

How do I address jealousy between siblings?

Address jealousy by ensuring each child feels valued and heard, spending individual time with each, and avoiding comparisons. Encourage siblings to express their feelings and help them understand and appreciate each other’s unique qualities.

Can outside influences, like friends, contribute to sibling problems?

Yes, friends and peer groups can influence sibling dynamics, sometimes exacerbating conflicts or introducing new tensions. It’s important to be aware of these influences and discuss how external opinions should not dictate sibling relationships.

What’s the difference between healthy competition and harmful rivalry?

Healthy competition is motivating and focuses on personal growth and achievement, while harmful rivalry involves putting the other down or winning at any cost. Healthy competition is supportive, whereas harmful rivalry can lead to resentment and emotional harm.

How do I handle situations where one child is bullying another?

In bullying situations, it’s crucial to intervene immediately, ensuring the safety and emotional well-being of all involved. Address the behavior firmly and fairly, and seek to understand the underlying reasons while providing appropriate guidance and support.

What is the best way to establish fair rules and consequences for siblings?

Fair rules and consequences are consistent, clear, and consider each child’s age and understanding. Involving children in setting these rules can increase their acceptance and adherence.

Should I allocate specific roles or responsibilities to each child to avoid conflicts?

Allocating roles and responsibilities can help reduce conflicts by giving each child a sense of ownership and contribution. However, it’s important to ensure these roles are flexible and fit each child’s abilities and interests.

How can I teach my children to share and take turns?

Teach sharing and taking turns by modeling this behavior yourself, praising cooperative behavior, and setting up structured activities that require turn-taking. Use real-life situations as teachable moments to reinforce these values.

What can parents do when siblings constantly argue over personal space?

When siblings argue over personal space, establish clear personal boundaries and respect for each other’s belongings. Encourage open communication about their needs and work together to find practical solutions that respect everyone’s space.

Are there any warning signs that indicate a need for professional help with sibling conflicts?

Warning signs include prolonged conflicts that don’t resolve with parental intervention, physical violence, emotional distress, or significant impact on family functioning. If conflicts lead to persistent anxiety, depression, or behavioral issues, it’s time to seek professional help.

How can I balance individual attention with fostering sibling relationships?

Balance individual attention by spending quality time with each child based on their unique needs and interests, while also creating opportunities for siblings to bond over shared activities. Acknowledge each child’s individuality while promoting cooperative family experiences.

What is the role of parental stress in sibling conflicts?

Parental stress can inadvertently exacerbate sibling conflicts, as children may mimic stressed behavior or act out to gain attention. Managing your own stress and maintaining a calm, supportive environment can help reduce tensions among siblings.

How do I address conflicts when children have different cultural backgrounds or beliefs?

Address conflicts arising from different cultural backgrounds or beliefs by fostering an environment of respect and open dialogue. Encourage siblings to share and learn from each other’s perspectives, emphasizing understanding and acceptance.

What are some strategies for helping teenagers resolve sibling conflicts?

For teenagers, effective strategies include promoting open and respectful communication, encouraging empathy, and guiding them to solve conflicts independently. Provide them with the tools to understand each other’s perspectives and find common ground.

Can siblings outgrow their conflicts as they get older?

Many siblings outgrow their conflicts as they mature, gaining perspective and emotional intelligence. However, some underlying issues may persist into adulthood if not addressed effectively in their youth.

How do I prevent my children from mimicking adult conflicts they witness at home?

Model healthy conflict resolution and communication in your own interactions. Discuss with your children the importance of respectful disagreements and the differences between adult and child conflicts.

What can parents do when siblings have very different interests and hobbies?

When siblings have different interests, encourage each to pursue their passions while finding common activities they can enjoy together. Celebrate each child’s unique interests and encourage mutual respect and support.

Is it possible for siblings to form close bonds after years of conflict?

Yes, especially with effective communication, resolution of past grievances, and a mutual willingness to rebuild the relationship. Family therapy and open dialogue can facilitate this process.

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