Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Most siblings argue and quarrel occasionally. They fight
over possessions, space on the sofa, time in the bathroom,
or the last donut. On most days, though, siblings are
friends and companions instead of rivals and competitors.
The ambivalence between love and hate is present in all
close relationships. This ambivalence becomes more intense
in siblings because both want to gain their parents'
attention and be their parents' favorite. The positive side
of sibling rivalry is that it gives children a chance to
learn to give and take, share, and stand up for their
- Encourage children to settle their own disagreements.
Have a rule: Settle your own arguments, but no hitting,
damaging property, or name calling.
The more you intervene, the more you will be called upon
to intervene. When possible stay out of your children's
disagreements as long as they remain verbal. Children
can't go through life having a referee to resolve their
differences. By arguing with siblings and peers,
children will learn to negotiate with others and find
common ground. However, if your children are both less
than 3 years old and one of them is aggressive, you will
need to supervise them closely. At this age children do
not understand the potential dangers of fighting.
- If your children come to you with their argument, try to
stay out of the middle.
Try to keep your children from bringing their argument
to you for an opinion. Remind them that they should
settle it themselves.
If you do become involved, help your children clarify
what they are arguing about by teaching them to listen
better. Encourage each child to describe the problem
for a minute or two while the other child listens
without interrupting. If they still don't understand
the issue, try to describe it for them. Unless there's
an obvious culprit, do not try to decide who is to
blame, who started it, or who is right. Interrogating
them about this can be counterproductive because it may
encourage them to exaggerate or lie. Also, do not
impose a solution. Since it's their problem, let them
find their own solution whenever possible.
- If an argument becomes too loud, do something about it.
If the arguing becomes annoying or interferes with your
ability to think, go to your children and tell them, "I
do not want to hear your arguing. Please settle your
differences quietly or find another place to argue." If
they continue arguing loudly, send them to the basement,
outdoors, or to time-out in separate rooms. If they are
arguing over an object such as the TV, don't allow
either to watch. If they are arguing over who gets to
sit in the front seat of the car, ask them both to sit
in the back seat. If they are arguing about going
somewhere, cancel the trip for both.
- Do not permit hitting, breaking things, or name calling.
Under these circumstances punish both of your children.
If they are hurting each other, send them both to
time-out in separate places no matter who is hitting
when you arrive at the scene. Usually you cannot know
which child took the first swing or provoked the
Do not allow name calling or teasing because it hurts
feelings (for example, calling a child who is not good
in school a "dummy," one who is not athletic "clumsy,"
or one who has a bed-wetting problem "smelly"). Do not
permit such derogatory comments because they can hurt a
- Stop arguing that occurs in public places.
If you are in a shopping mall, restaurant, or movie
theater and your children begin arguing, you need to
stop them because it is annoying to other people. If
the arguing continues after a warning, separate them
(for example, by sitting between them). If that doesn't
work, give them a 2- to 5-minute time-out outside or at
an out-of-the-way spot. If your children are over age 4
or 5, you can sometimes tell them that if they don't
stop arguing they will get a 30-minute time-out (or
30-minute loss of TV time) when you get home. Sometimes
you will have to leave the public setting and take your
- Protect each child's personal possessions, privacy, and
When children argue over a toy and the toy belongs to
one of the children, return it to the owner. A child
doesn't have to share his possessions. Warn him,
however, that sometime he may want to play with his
sister's toy and expect her to share it with him. She
may not feel like sharing it if he has not shared his
toy with her. Teach your children to take turns playing
with family toys such as video games or board games.
Also teach your child to share toys when friends come
over. Sharing is a necessary skill for making and
keeping friends and getting along in school.
Younger siblings often intrude on older siblings'
friendships and play. It is helpful if you give the
younger sibling a playmate or special activity when your
older child has a friend over.
Protect your child's study time from interruption.
Designating a study room often helps.
- Avoid showing favoritism.
All punishment for arguing or fighting must be group
punishment. Do no believe the myths that fights are
always started by the brother rather than the sister, by
the older child rather than the younger one, or by one
child who is the troublemaker. Rivalry will be intense
if a parent shows favoritism. Try to treat your
children as unique and special individuals. Do not take
sides. Do not compare them and do not categorize them
as good children and bad children. Do not listen to
tattle-telling. If one of your children complains that
you are not being fair, either ignore this comment or
restate the rule that has been broken. If you are
feeling guilty, remind yourself that being a parent is
difficult and any mistakes you make will balance out.
- Praise cooperative behavior.
Whenever you see your children playing together in a
friendly way, praise them together. Compliment them for
helping each other and settling disagreements politely.
PREVENTING FIGHTING AND NAME CALLING
First, help your children acknowledge their feelings. Let
them know it is all right to be angry towards a sibling but
they should not vent their anger by fighting or name
calling. Give them useful alternatives to hurtful arguing,
such as talking to you about it.
Second, provide access to outside friends and different
activities. Do not expect your children to play with each
Third, do not show favoritism toward one child over another.
Try to talk with each child every day and to schedule a
special individualized activity once or twice a week.
Most important, show your children how to settle
disagreements peacefully and in a calm voice. Try not to
act disrespectful, disagreeable, or ill-tempered to your
children or other people.
CALL YOUR CHILDREN'S PHYSICIAN DURING OFFICE HOURS IF:
- Your children are not getting along any better after you
have followed these recommendations for six weeks.
- Your children fight with each other constantly.
- Your children have several other behavioral problems.
- One of your children constantly teases the other.
- One of your children has physically harmed the other.
- You have other questions or concerns.