by Chris Hudson

Squabbling siblings: dos and don’ts for parents

two friends arguing at the park

Teenage sibling bickering and arguing is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean parents are powerless to do anything to reduce it. As a parent, you may feel helpless, but (surprisingly) you actually exert significant influence on the relationship between your tussling teenager and his sibling.

So whether your son is fighting with his sibling over personal space or who gets the remote, here’s a list of dos and don’ts that’ll help parents keep the peace.

The Dos

1.Set ground rules

Make sure your household has clear rules about what is never OK during an argument. How you phrase it is up to you, but the minimum rules should be along the lines of:

  • no physical violence of any sort – ever
  • no threats of harm or damage
  • no name-calling or personal insults.

2.Provide space

Try to have places in the home that each teen can consider their own space. Ideally this is their own bedroom, but if that is not possible even allowing them to have a part of the house for a period free from interruption or distraction. Just keeping them out of each other’s hair will go a long way towards keeping the peace.

3.Practice what you preach

You are your son’s greatest role model. He will learn a great deal about how to negotiate and resolve conflict from the model set by you and your partner, so make sure you’re sticking to your own rules.

4.Spend time together

Research has found that when parents spend time with their teenage kids together, the relationship between siblings has less conflict. Teens benefit from having time with each other in the company of their parents.

The Don’ts

1.Don’t intervene

Learning how to resolve conflict, negotiate, compromise, and express an opinion are all skills your teenage son can learn from family squabbles.

Your intervention could also teach your son that fighting with his sibling is a way of getting attention.

Obviously, if things get physically or emotionally violent, you’ll need to step in, but try and limit the intervention to separating the warring parties for a set period and let them resume the ‘discussion’ later – if still required. If you feel you must talk to your teenagers about the conflict, talk to the siblings separately and don’t try to solve their differences for them.

Teens benefit from having time with each other in the company of their parents.

2.Don’t ask “who started it?”

Nothing good can come from asking this question. If by some miracle a sibling does own up, where does that leave the parent who asked? As you probably know, instigation doesn’t equal guilt. The only thing achieved by asking, “Who started it?” is a chorus of accusation and counter accusation.

3.Don’t take sides

It is important that parents stay neutral in inter-sibling arguments. Even if you agree with one party more than the other, try to remain unbiased in how you deal with each sibling. If you are perceived to be favouring one over another, you risk further escalation of the conflict.

4.Don’t compare siblings

Making comments comparing one sibling to another will only increase levels on animosity and jealousy. Many parents do it without meaning to; “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “Your sister never does that” can easily slip out. Make every effort to treat each sibling as an individual and accept his or her differences.

These dos and don’ts aren’t going to be an immediate solution to a current conflict, but they will your squabbling kids work towards a more harmonious family climate, which should help bring a little more sunshine to your life too.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Chris Hudson is a youth expert, parenting coach and the editor of Understanding Teenagers. This article is about

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