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Siblings and quarrels

Children are like most people. They argue with those they feel safe with, like their siblings. Sibling quarrels can be due to different things following a separation. Whether the arguments become more frequent or stop altogether, it can give us parents important information about how the children are doing. There are things we can do to meet our children in a positive way.

A summary of this article below.

Siblings are an important factor of security

Siblings is one of the most important safety factors when parents separate. However, with separation, there is a greater risk that they will quarrel. Just like adults, children tend to argue with those they are comfortable with and so anger and frustration over family change can take the form of conflict with siblings.

Reasons for sibling quarrels

Often, there are signs that a child is seeking their parents’ attention. A pinch in a big sister’s arm can be a useful way to attract back their parent’s attention who is busy with their own thoughts about separation and practical matters. For most families, separation means living in closer quarters. Children who were used to having their own room must share or make do with smaller space in the family’s only bedroom. Crowding increases the risk of quarrels because children cannot escape without taking more consideration for one another. Moving in with bonus siblings can also lead to more quarrels, both between the original siblings and with the new arrivals. It takes time to mend two family cultures so that the children feel that it is fair and that they do not become disadvantaged.

When sibling quarrels suddenly ends

Siblings can also react differently after a separation. Sibling pairs who have argued with each other all the time can suddenly agree and take care of each other. If the time before the separation was characterized by fights between your parents, it may have also increased the level of conflict between the children – anger breeds anger. Then the calm between the siblings can be a confirmation that the separation has made family life more harmonious. But the fact that children stop fighting with each other can also be a consequence of an insecure life situation. Children who feel that their parents are feeling bad and having difficulty controlling their lives can become considerate and refrain from challenging each other and their parents. In that situation, the calm at home is a signal that you need to create stability as a parent.

What you as a parent can do

In order to manage sibling quarrels, one needs to get an understanding of what they are caused by. Siblings who get on each other’s nerves by disturbing and not leaving each other alone may need concrete rules for calm and peace to be restored. Designated safe spaces in the home can help, for example in the child’s own bed, at the kitchen table, or on the couch with headphones.

Children might also need their own space or ways to store their things so their siblings can’t get to them. If you notice your child seeking attention, you can give them one-on-one moments with you. Maybe you can tuck each child into bed at different times, or let the siblings move with a day’s delay so one of them can have their own evening with you.

Mediating in sibling squabbles is most effective if you support the children’s own conflict resolution rather than coming up with solutions yourself. Ask them if they can suggest a solution themselves and then let each one speak their piece. It is not allowed to badmouth each other. Instead of giving sweeping explanations like “you understand she’s small”, you can encourage the children’s ability to see things from the other person’s perspective. Throwing a pillow at someone’s head isn’t as much fun for the one sitting and drawing a picture as it is for the one who wants a pillow fight. If you check in with each other before starting a game, it will be more fun and the risk of fighting will decrease.

Does it help to talk to the children about the conflicts

When it comes to discussing children’s fights, it’s a balancing act. In the heat of the moment, talking doesn’t do any good because children are unable to listen or think when they are upset. Yelling afterwards can make the frustration return. Once the fighting has stopped and everyone has calmed down, it is usually best to think together about how to avoid fights in the future.


  • Having siblings is a source of security when parents separate.
  • Sibling rivalry is natural. It’s important to keep an eye on the dynamics of their relationship and how it may have changed after separation.
  • It’s important to understand what the root of the conflict is in order to create more physical space, give each child more attention, or implement other strategies.
  • Once the fighting has calmed, it can be beneficial to talk to your children about how to avoid similar situations in the future.
Malin Bergström
Child psychologist