Sibling fighting: what you need to know
‘Who said you could wear my clothes?’ ‘Get out of my room!’ ‘You’ve been on the computer for hours!’
It’s normal for teenage siblings to fight over all sorts of things. Teenage siblings argue just as much as younger children, but they tend to fight about different things. They might also use different and more grown-up language.
Sibling fighting can be stressful for you, but it has a useful purpose. When children interact with parents, they learn about authority. Interactions between brothers and sisters help them learn about relating to peers.
Also, if it’s handled the right way, sibling fighting can help children learn important life skills, such as how to:
- solve problems and resolve conflicts
- treat others with empathy
- deal with different opinions
- compromise and negotiate.
Listening to children’s fights can be infuriating and stressful, but this stage will pass. They might be fighting today, but siblings can offer each other support and protection at other times. Sibling squabbles can also help your children learn to be better friends, partners and workmates later in life.
Resolving sibling fights
Here are some suggestions for handling fights between teenage siblings.
Resolving arguments by themselves teaches children essential life skills, so avoid always stepping in to solve problems for them – although this might be faster and less stressful. Try asking your children to listen to each other’s perspective. Then guide them towards a compromise, possibly using steps for problem-solving.
If your children need some help with conflict, coach them through it. You can model problem-solving for them by helping them work out what they’re arguing about, asking them what they each want, and prompting them to come up with solutions together.
You can look at what the conflict is about rather than focusing on who started it. After all, if they’re fighting, they’re both responsible.
If you take sides, one child might feel unfairly treated and feel you’re showing favouritism. It’s better to get both teenagers to state their problems, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Writing things down can be a good idea, to make sure they get all the brainstorming ideas on paper.
You can also motivate your children to resolve the fight themselves. For example, if they’re fighting over the computer, take away their access to it until they can work out a solution together.
As your children work through this process, it’s good – although not always easy – for them to try to stay calm.
Keeping track of how fights get resolved will help you make sure one child isn’t dominating the other. Make sure that compromise does happen, and that they’re each getting something. If they can’t compromise, create a consequence for both of them.
Violent verbal or physical fights can harm the long-term relationship between siblings. You need to step in if your children are being verbally or physically violent towards each other.