“But Mom, she called me a name!” 

“Dad, he started it!” 

Ask parents of more than one child, and chances are, they’ll tell you that siblings run hot and cold when it comes to getting along. When brothers and sisters are calm, life is usually calm. But when sibling conflict rears its ugly head, it can become World War III in a nanosecond. 

“Sibling conflict occurs because we’re selfish by nature,” says Susan Alexander Yates, author of And Then I Had Kids and And Then I had Teenagers. “It’s very natural for siblings to have a hard time getting along. I think parents are shocked at that, but they have to remember we’re all selfish and self-centered.”

Sibling conflict also is caused by foolishness and anger. While selfishness manifests itself as wanting to be first, having the best, or tattling on a sibling, foolishness is being mean or teasing past a certain line—not recognizing how your words affect another person. Anger has fairly obvious outcomes, such as hitting or yelling.

When brothers and sisters are fighting it impacts the family as a whole. “There’s already tension in the family created by the business of what we have to do,” points out Dr. Scott Turansky, head of the National Center for Biblical Parenting. “When you add something else, like sibling conflict, it further weakens the family’s unity.”

Reducing Sibling Conflict

Sibling conflict is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it has to throw your household into constant chaos. Both Yates and Turansky offer parents concrete ways to overcome sibling conflict. 

Recognize the blessing of siblings. “I think the first thing to realize is that having siblings is really a huge blessing,” says Yates. “I think the most difficult child to raise is an only child because he has no built-in, 24/7 others he has to learn to share with, to let go first, or who will teach him how to be thoughtful or how to disagree in healthy ways. … You can’t avoid sibling rivalry, but you can use it for good.”

Be firm about not tolerating conflict. Parents should set clear boundaries and consequences for fighting. “Tell your kids that the family is not going to live this way anymore,” says Turansky. And then follow through on your words with actions. For example, a “Do not disturb the family peace” rule in which all brothers and sisters are held responsible for sibling conflict can be effective.

Separate the kids. Send them to different rooms for a while so they can cool down after a fight. “Separation is a great way to avoid, reduce or stop sibling conflict,” says Yates.

Put a positive spin on it. Focus more on the solution than the conflict. For instance, instead of saying “Stop hitting your brother,” try “Brothers love each other.” “We’re visioning with our children about the value of having sibling relationships,” says Turansky.

Teach conflict responses. Show kids how to react when a sibling mistreats them. Coach them on how to improve their relationships with each other. “We want to change the culture of disharmony into one of harmony,” he says.

Schedule one-on-one time. For example, Mom and Dad can take turns going out to breakfast with one child at a time on a rotating basis. “This can help alleviate some sibling conflict, because it gives each child some individual attention from Mom and Dad,” says Yates.