Sibling Rivalry: 4 Ways to Coach Kids from the Sidelines


Sibling Rivalry

When you hear your children bickering and fighting with each other, does it remind you of nails on a chalkboard?

Our kids love each other one minute, yet want to strangle each other the next. We have all experienced relationships where we can’t live with them, yet we can’t live without them. And, sibling conflict isn’t any different.

What do parents do when siblings argue? You could leave it alone and see if they work it out. Or you could take sides pointing out who you think is right and wrong. Or you could yell at them to cut if out.

Sometimes the more we try to solve our kids problems with each other, the less they solve it themselves. Instead of getting in the middle and trying to referee their squabbles, let’s talk about how to coach them to solve their own problems from the sidelines.

Why do Siblings Argue?

I know sometimes we think that our kids are from another planet. Yet kids, like adults, can argue about almost anything. Children may bicker about tangible items, such as food, electronics, and toys. Or, kids may worry about not having enough love, attention, power, peace, and space. And, sometimes they just find it amusing to get their sibling stirred up.

I have a mostly, well-behaved little boy who likes to see his big sister squirm. He has no idea that he doesn’t make any sense. He enjoys stating the opposite of what his sister says. They can go back and forth, while arguing about nothing of substance. For example, “yes I did, no I didn’t” will repeat again and again. He thinks it’s funny, and at this point I have to hold back my giggles too. But sibling squabbles aren’t always funny, so what do we do then?

How do Parents Respond?

The good news is our kids are still learning. They have the ability to learn how to manage their emotional and social world better. And, we model this every day, both positively and negatively.

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of parenting. I think parents have a few options when dealing with children’s misbehavior: 1) leave it alone, 2) enforce consequence, or 3) coach kids.

What behaviors do you leave alone? When do you intervene and enforce a consequence? I don’t want to referee all my children’t arguments, so I usually leave harmless bickering alone. And I use consequences for aggressive behavior. I save coaching for those moments when kids are still in control of their actions, but the conflict is heating up.

4 Ways to Coach Kids to Solve Own Sibling Problems

1. Notice Cooperation: Share your observations. “It looks like you two are having fun together.” Or, it looks like you two have solved your problem without my help.” You can only do this if you let them work out some of their own problems.

2. Ask Before Helping: Restrain your urge to scold and/or fix your children’s bickering. Then ask “is this something you guys can solve on your own or do you need my help?” If they ask for help, guide them through the problem solving steps: 1) identify the problem, 2) identify possible solutions, and 3) pick a solution everyone can live with. I try to let my kids do most of the talking and brainstorming.

3. Encourage Teamwork, Not Competition: It is tempting to use competition to motivate a child to comply or move faster. Instead encourage your kids to be a team, and get the job done together.

4. Teach Acceptance of Differences: Kids typically want to be better, smarter, faster, and/or stronger than their sibling/peers. Emphasize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses (or things they do well or poorly). Promote and model your own acceptance, such as “differences don’t mean that one is better or worse, just different.”

Although I may try to keep family peace at times, I don’t want to be responsible for my kids’ relationships. The best I can do is manage my own feelings on a good day and coach them through the hard parts. You too can stay on the sidelines – it can be quite a relief to not join the intensity!

How do you keep your cool when your kids start arguing with each other? Share how you teach your kids to solve their own sibling problems.


If you would like to learn how to stay out of your kid’s problems but stay connected to them, try free introductory coaching session with Coach Marci!

Photo Credit: “Sibling Rivalry” by Life Mental Health

One response to “Sibling Rivalry: 4 Ways to Coach Kids from the Sidelines

  1. Terrific post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?
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