Six steps to fewer fights between siblings

1 June

In this article you’ll find psychologist Liv Svirsky’s best advises for how to make your children get along with support from CBT.

For most people, the relation with your sibling is one of the longest relationships you’ll have in life, and it’s probably the person you spend most time with within the family. Some describe this as a very close relationship that brings safety, shared experiences and a mutual base. Others have a more complicated relationship that has been subject to competition, quarrel, injustice, and dissimilarities. As a parent there’s plenty of things to do to foster the first type of relationship. Below you’ll find some tips that’ll help when handling conflicts between your children, as well as advice for how to establish a close and well functioning sibling relation.

1. Map out the fights
Did you know that siblings in pre-school fights in general six times an hour? The closer the children are in age, the more fighting. One of the reasons is that they have similar interests and are almost in the same stage of intellectual development. Siblings that fight aren’t per definition something negative. In fact, having siblings develops your social skills such as waiting for ones turn and learning how to deal with a conflict. Common problems that people with kids might recognize are verbal fights, fighting, and jealousy.

By keeping track of how often and what your kids are fighting about, you’ll get an understanding of what kinds of problems your family are dealing with. When you have analyzed the spread of the problems for a couple of days, you’ll be better prepared when trying to fix it.

2. Identify the behaviours you want to see more of
One way to strengthen the relation between siblings is to be clear on what behaviours you prefer to see. Our behaviour is often controlled by the consequences of our kids. Behaviours that are encouraged or results in some sort of reward or positive outcome will probably be repeated. Hence, it can be good to emphasize and encourage behaviours like asking adults for help in order to solve a conflict, or supporting each other.

Choose a couple of behaviours that you would like to work on together with your kids. An advice I often give to parents is to be as specific as possible. It’s difficult to foster feelings like “being happy” or “having fun”. Instead, try focusing on activities that reflects these feelings, for example “dance with your brother”.

3. Practice your kids in expressing feelings
Another strategy that is good when strengthening the relation between your kids is to clarify to them that it’s okay to feel all kinds of feelings. Even grownups can have difficulties expressing their emotions in a proper way, haven’t you or someone you know once gotten an emotional outburst? Imagine then how tough it can be for a child who just begun to learn this!

As a parent you can help you child in this learning process by being a good role model. One of your kids might be screaming, “I hate him!” and pointing at his brother. Your first reaction would probably be to say: “No! You don’t say that!” However, a more appropriate reaction would be to, in a more controlled way, say: “I can tell that you are very angry, what did your brother do that made you so upset?” By doing this you confirm your child’s feeling, while at the same time guiding him into talking about the problem instead of saying something evil.

4. Practice on seeing different perspectives
The practice of expressing ones feelings is highly important. However, it’s just as important for a child to be able to see other people’s perspectives and reflect over how they might feel, think and act in various situations. You can facilitate this process by asking: “How do to think he felt when you said that?” In this way you open up for a conversation where your child can twist and turn the situation and see it from different people’s point of views. Remember that these questions only should be raised when the child feels comfortable, only then can you get an honest answer that might lead you further in your talks. In other words, it’s not a good idea to ask these questions in front of a sibling when they’ve just had a fight or done something stupid. If you do so, there is a risk that your child feels embarrassed and might refuse to tell you how he or she believes the sibling reacted.

Another way of practicing this ability is when watching a movie or reading a story. You can then ask your child how he or she believes the different characters felt in the given situation.

5. Don’t compare your kids
As a parent, it’s highly important that you don’t compare your children to one another. For example, you shouldn’t say things like: “Why can’t you be more like your sister” or “Your brother always makes his bed, why can’t you do that too?”

It’s easy to fall into this kind of language, however by doing so you assign your kids with certain roles. In my work as a psychologist I often meet roles such as “our little musician”, “the orderly one”, “the responsible”, or “the one who has her head up in the clouds”. Life is demanding and requires flexibility, as well as being able to see things from various people’s perspectives. Therefore, you should rather speak about your children separately and encourage them to try which every role they want to try. Although one child is very “talented” within one area, the other kids in the family should be able to try this role as well, without being compared. Don’t assign your kids with specific roles.

6. See the difference between playing and fighting
It can be good to have some rules concerning when and when not to interrupt a fight between your kids. For example, if they say inappropriate things to each other, hurt each other physically, or if they’re destroying things. How to interrupt depends on the intensity and seriousness of the fight. Start by asking the kids if they’re playing or fighting. A useful definition for a game is whether or not both siblings find it amusing. If not, it’s not a game. Therefore, start by asking your children what’s going on. If they respond by saying that they’re playing, you could always remind them of that a game should always include that both parts are having fun. If you think they’re telling the truth, let them play. However, if you feel the intensity of the game increasing, as well as your worrying, then maybe you should end it. Respect your own emotions here. Say for example: “You might be playing around, but I feel this is getting out of hand so I’d rather have you playing something else”.

Liv Svirsky is a qualified psychologist, qualified psychotherapist, supervisor in cognitive behaviour, CBT, and a writer. If you would like to practice this further we recommend Liv Svirsky’s digital courses within parenting. You find they at

This article was first published in Modern Psykologi 2/2017.

This article was originally published at Modern Psykologi

Read more about Liv’s tips under Practice and Learning here: