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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Managing Sibling Bickering (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     Sibling bickering is a form of sibling rivalry that has been in existence since families with multiple children have been around.  Any household with siblings is sure to encounter any or more of these:  “It’s his fault!”, “He’s teasing me!” , “She keeps bothering me!”, “Stop it!”,  “Leave me alone!”, “Mom, she keeps looking at me!”, etc.  I am sure you can provide more creative examples than these.  Eradicating sibling bickering is wishful thinking, so do not attempt it.  It is a natural part of growing up with ample opportunities for learning (problem solving skills, negotiating, assertiveness skills, etc.).  However, if it happen more often than not and annoys you badly, then there are some behavioral things parents can do to reduce bickering at home. 
     Here are some key principles to consider first.  Bickering is a negative behavior, so approaching it from this perspective and laying a strong foundation for discipline is key in decreasing it.  Furthermore, consistency between parents is vital to reduce any negative behavior, including sibling bickering.  A team approach to tackling this issue will be easier and will yield better results. Lastly, children learn what they see, so parents modeling good ways to communicate with each other is one of the most important ingredient in fostering harmonious family interactions.  Having said that, here are five behavioral strategies to consider in managing sibling bickering.    

5 Tips to Manage Sibling Bickering:

1. Do NOT ask the two infamous questions: “What happened?” or “Who started it?” The only time you need to ask is when someone is physically harmed.  Seriously, which kid is going to say “I’m sorry Mom, I was the one who started it all.  I’m the one who should be punished.”  Even with a honest child, this is an unrealistic expectation.  If you’re not convinced, then think of it as a survival mode reaction to avoid punishment. Also, when you ask these questions you are encouraging tattling behavior.  Instead, if they come tattling to you, then tell them firmly you are not interested in knowing who started it or what happened, but that you have full confidence that they will resolve it on their own. 
2. Do NOT take sides.  The two main reasons not to do this.  First,  children need to learn how to problem solve on their own and if the parent keeps rescuing them, then they do not get the learning opportunity to practice this life skill.  Second, no parent wants to be put in a position where they appear to love one child more than the other.  I believe children are very intuitive  people and they will use the guilt trip to capitalize on this.  It may present something like this: “It’s not fair, you love him more than me!” or  “You always take her side! I hate you! I hate her!” 

3. Ignore it.  Ignoring is a powerful tool that many people do not give credit to and is one of the most effect way to reduce behavior.  Some behavioral psychologists would go far as to say that ignoring makes any behavior extinct.  Of course, if it’s something that causes physical harm then you should attend to it immediately.

4. Put “Stop tattling” as a house rule.  Tattlers are annoying to parents and others.  It is not a desirable social skill that will attract friends in the playground.  Again, it is an ineffective way to problem solve.

5. Spend quality time with each child.  Children need lot of attention, and if they feel they are not getting it then they will engage in negative behaviors to get it.  Any attention is better than no attention.  Making special time on a weekly basis is a good way to give positive attention to each child.  For example, Tuesdays can be “Mommy and Me” time while Thursdays are “Daddy and Me” time.  Individual families know how it works best for their family.


  1. Whenever someone tattle, at home or at school, I ask these questions: Did you get hurt? Did the person hurt themselves? Is the person destroying/hurting property? Is the person bleeding, dying, or throwing up? If they say no to them all (and they almost always do) then I say that I don't want to hear about it. As the school year goes on, the tattling diminishes. (I also tend to punish a child who is breaking a small rule, ie. chewing gum) if another person tattled and I didn't catch it myself.

  2. C: Good questions to ask a child who tattles! Can you elaborate on punishing a child for breaking a small rule such as chewing gum? I would like to understand the context better. Thanks!