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Managing Sibling Conflict

By Kristal Clark

As I walked down the hall to say goodnight to my pre-teen girls, my 12-year-old pushed past me and slammed the door behind her. Confused and slightly annoyed that they had the nerve to be upset when I was trying to go to bed, I entered the room and tried to decipher what had just happened from the three remaining kids in the room.

“She is way too sensitive”

“We told her we were just kidding, but she stormed off anyways”

“She was being REALLY annoying”

In my annoyance at the whole situation, I concluded that I was not going to figure it out by talking to them, so I went to find my 12-year-old.

“What happened?” I asked her, with as much patience in my voice as I could muster

“They all HATE me! Whenever I talk, they either talk over me or tell me to be quiet. Then they say they are joking…THEY ARE NOT JOKING!!!!”

She buried her head in her pillow and cried. I felt myself becoming increasingly irritated, wanting to explode at them all. Don’t they know I need sleep? Do they plan these things at night on purpose. They MUST be out to get me. I thought about how to approach this situation…make them all just go to bed? Try the facebook famous “get along” shirt? Tell them to work it out amongst themselves and go to bed?

I took a deep breath and looked down at my daughter, who was still crying into her pillow. In that moment, it hit me: of course they are not doing this on purpose. They are tired at the end of the day, too, and they are still learning how to navigate these challenges. For the most part, my kids are very close and care deeply about one another…they would not do this on purpose. But the question of what to do about it remained. I thought about how I feel when I have conflict in my life. Can I just go to bed with all of that on my mind? Do I want to be stuck in close proximity with someone who has hurt me until we just “get along? Of course not. Those are not solutions. Working out emotional conflict is difficult as a fully developed adult, so was it reasonable to expect them to navigate it on their own? I decided that no, it was not, and that they needed help with that. I brought them all out to the living room for a late night snack and to talk it out. I helped them give one another a chance to express their feelings around the situation.

“You were being really loud and and hyper and we were tired and couldn’t hear eachother” one said

The 12 year old thought for a moment and said “I’m sorry. My body and brain can’t slow down.”

I let them talk this out as long as they needed to. I did not take sides or try to determine who was right or wrong. I only served as a mediator to help them express their feelings without being hurtful, while being supportive of them all. After a lot of conversation, a few tears, and too many cookies, they were back to being the fun-loving group of kids they usually are.

Sibling conflict can be tough to manage, especially when we are tired ourselves. When conflict arises, these strategies can be helpful in helping them navigate:

  • Serve as a mediator, rather than as a judge. Avoid taking sides or trying to determine who is right or wrong. Instead, do your best to help them understand, identify, and express their feelings to one another in a productive way

  • Praise them for resolution. Addressing the undesirable behaviors around conflict can come naturally. However, kids probably already feel bad and want to be able to fix their relationship as much as you want them to fix it. Avoid negative reactions to their conflict and instead focus on complimenting their ability to work through it.

  • Give grace. To yourself as well as to your kids. They are not trying to ruin your day or each other’s It is difficult to learn to navigate conflict and relationships. You are all doing your best and, with your help, they will be back to themselves in no time!

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