If your kids are at it more than ever, you’re not alone.

If your kids are arguing more than ever, fighting about who gets to sit next to you at dinner, getting more handsy during playtime… you’re not alone. In the last few days, I’ve heard more inbound requests to put up a post about sibling rivalry than anything else.

And here’s why so many households have so much conflict. Kids everywhere are dealing with a major world change, a major school change, a major who-is-in-the-house-when change, a major social life change. Oh right and a ton of uncertainty. It’s really so much – for us and for our kids. And guess who is an always-present and often easy target to express all the frustration, fear, sadness, worry, and anger… a sibling.

I always try to be curious about *why* kids do the things they do, to try to translate kids’ difficult behaviors into the deeper, more vulnerable communications about their needs and worries. And this is critical with sibling struggles.

If you’re particularly frustrated with one of your children right now due to an escalation in sibling conflict, take a pause and a deep breath, and then imagine this child saying softly to you: “I’m having a hard time. I need more emotion regulation skills, more one-on-one time, more problem solving practice, and more preparation for the inevitable sibling conflicts that come my way. This isn’t your fault, mom! No one is blaming you. Just please see my struggle as a sign that I need more, not that I’m a bad kid.”

Remember: The factors that promote sibling peace – emotion regulation, flexibility, generosity – depend on each child feeling seen and heard. Here are four actionable strategies to start using in your homes.

Strategies to Manage Sibling Rivalry:

  1. Give each child more 1-on-1 time. Just you + your child, no phones.

    • Your child is trying to tell you this: “When Alex and I fight so much, it’s because we feel we’re competing for the scarce resource of your attention. If I could get some more one-on-one time, I’ll feel more secure and then I can see Alex more as a playmate and less as a rival.”

    • Set aside as much one-on-one time as you can. If you can get 10 minutes per day with each, that’s awesome. If that feels laughable because life is already so unmanageable, try for 2 minutes once per week. In those minutes, give your child hugs and load him up with words like, “I love you so much. I always will. I know that this special time, just us, is short … but it’s the best time of my whole morning.”

    • Maybe play “The Fill Up Game” for some super concentrated connection.

  2. Work on Emotion Regulation Skills

    • Emotion Regulation starts with three steps:

      • Acknowledge. “Your brother drew on your project! I see how angry that makes you.”

      • Validate. “You worked so hard, and now there are scribbles on it. Makes sense you’re angry.”

      • Give permission for the feeling. “I won’t let you hit, but you’re allowed to feel as angry as you do.”

      • Or, simplify: “You’re so mad. Makes sense. You’re allowed to feel this way. I won’t let you hit.”

    • Add in your own deep breaths in your child’s presence. He will join in eventually.

    • Later on, co-create a story of why things went the way they did. This helps a child create coherent narrative, which helps her slow down between feelings and behaviors. This allows for better decision making.

  3. Slow Down, Describe, Empower. Solving kids’ arguments for them prevents kids from building problem solving skills. So, instead…

    • Slow Down: “Woah, lots of noise here. I need you both away from the blocks right now… now let’s just take a breath. ” Speak softly and slowly to counter the chaos.

    • Describe: Reflect and learn without blame. “Alex, you asked Abby to help and she said ‘No’? Abby, you were building and then Alex said your tower was ugly? Then there was lots of screaming… Did I get that right?” After each kid confirms, PAUSE.

    • Empower: “Hm, that sounds tricky. I hear both of you. I bet you both have ideas for what to do. You’ve solved things before, you’re such awesome problem solvers…”

    • If your kids don’t generate ideas, Wonder Aloud with leading thoughts: “Hm… I’m thinking about that time you did that city with different areas…”

  4. Pro-Active Sibling Meetings

    • Make a Meeting: “Let’s have a meeting to talk about what’s been going on. No one is in trouble. The opposite; you both have great ideas, so let’s think together.”

    • Set Your Intention: “The goal is to think of ideas that might help make your time together a bit more peaceful.”

    • Brainstorm and Record: Get ideas from everyone and write them down, even ridiculous ones. Brainstorm a funny idea yourself to add some levity.

    • Review the List: Read each idea slowly, wondering, “Hm, I wonder if there’s something here that could be helpful? Abby, Alex, what do you think?”

    • Pick Something to Try: “Ok, so there’s agreement that you’ll play with blocks together. Then Alex, when Abby tells you nicely that she wants some alone time, you’ll do your own thing with your trucks.”

    • Express Positivity: “I’m so proud of you two. Such amazing problem-solvers.”

Try This At Home:

First, take a deep breath, place your hand on your heart, and tell yourself: “It’s so hard to manage sibling conflict, it feels so stressful and it is so stressful, and I’m doing the best I can.” Really. Do that.

Then, think about this list and see what resonates. Start with something that feels manageable. No need to start with Strategy #1 if that feels impossible right now. Or don’t do any of these strategies (Really!), and instead just play around with the framework that sibling fighting is a communication of worry and competition for scarce resources, not a communication of petulance. See if things shift a bit in your home just by shifting your perspective… I’d bet on it.