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Dealing with conflict between siblings

Dealing with conflict between siblings

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Community Manager
Linda-ROPro

Dealing with conflict between siblings

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I have three girls - 8, 12 and 15. They are constantly fighting. Their language is disgusting and they threaten to hurt each other (but fortunately do not).

On many occasions I'm not a direct witness to the fighting and name calling and so I don't know how to manage it in terms of consequences because there may be lies or exaggeration involved.

Please help. It's really impacting my mental health as I feel my girls have no respect for me or each other.

Hi mumof3,

That sounds very stressful. I’m sorry to hear things are so challenging with your girls at the moment. Some conflict and arguing is really common and normal amongst siblings. It’s actually part of how children and teens learn skills to manage conflicts with others as adults. But, sometimes things can get out of hand, and it sounds like things have escalated to the point it’s really worrying you.

It can be really tricky to identify what is happening when you’re getting a different story from each child. Since the fighting keeps happening, as a first step it can be helpful to change the focus from dealing with each instance of fighting, and instead focus on the overall pattern of behaviour.

In order to do this, it’s important that as a family you have a shared understanding of what is and isn’t okay, and consequences for breaking rules. It may seem like they should already understand this - I’m sure sometimes the girls do things which they have been told aren’t okay. But, by sitting down together and working through setting family rules in a way which allows each child to have input and a voice, it can help them feel more responsible for keeping within the boundaries which they have agreed to.

Of course, as a parent you can have some ‘non-negotiables’ when setting rules - for instance, that threats to hurt each other aren’t okay.

It’s also important that this discussion isn’t about addressing any past arguments - this about problem-solving together how you can all behave in the future so that everyone is respected and can get along. You might need to remind them of this during the conversation, and redirect things if needed.

This isn’t going to resolve everything, but it can be a starting point for change.

After this conversation, the other thing which is often helpful when there is a disagreement, is to help them to solve the conflict in a productive way, by finding out the cause of conflict (it’s important to get input from both sides), and then help them brainstorm things that could resolve it.

There’s some useful information on addressing fights between siblings at raising.children.net.au (this article is relevant https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/behaviour/sibling-fights/sibling-fighting)
I’m wondering whether there is anything that your daughters enjoy doing together, or times when they are not fighting? Trying to find opportunities for them to have positive interactions can also be helpful.

If you’re finding these things aren’t helping, or you’re worried that the threats may escalation to physical aggression, then it may be helpful to seek professional help in the form of family counselling. Your GP is a good place to start to identify local services which may be able to provide this.

It’s also important to look after yourself. It’s understandable that you feel stressed. Often, I hear from parents that they don’t have time to relax or enjoy themselves because they have too much to do - looking after their kids, and the household, and working. But over time, everyone needs to have an opportunity to do something they enjoy, something which recharges their batteries. Otherwise, we become drained and don’t have the energy we need to look after others (and also because your wellbeing is just as important as other peoples’). So I encourage you to think about ways you might be able to look after yourself, even if it's just something small.

Best wishes,

Linda

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families ,in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.

 

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Community Manager
Janine-RO

Re: Dealing with conflict between siblings

Hi , I hope you and your family are going well - I just wanted to let you know that our resident psychologist, @Linda-ROPro , has also answered your question here. I hope you find it helpful!