Sibling rivalry: Letting kids work it out

Sibling rivalry is frustrating for everyone — parents and kids alike. Kids get angry with each other and lash out, and parents become exasperated trying to keep the bickering at a minimum. But what if — in some circumstances — instead of solving your kids’ conflicts for them, you just let your kids work it out on their own? Would that be so bad?

Siblings in conflict

Admittedly, there are some conflicts that are too big for kids to solve on their own. But for many of the smaller conflicts that crop up during a typical day, letting the kids work it out (if they are developmentally able), can be very freeing for Mom — and instructive for kids. Yes, you are the mom, but you don’t need to solve every single problem for your kids every single time. They need to learn to do for themselves, at least in the appropriate situations. This is a small way you can encourage that — in the appropriate conflicts, of course.

‘Safe’ conflict

Is there such a thing as “safe” conflict? It probably depends on your point of view, but conflict that isn’t likely to escalate into something physical may be just the kind where you can let your kids work out their own solution. In addition, just like with other behaviors, kids do tend to act out at home, with “safe” people, in ways they wouldn’t with others. They know their family still has to love them, even when they are not perfect, after all. Letting your kids have conflict — and then work out those conflicts — does not mean they’ll engage in those same kinds of conflicts outside the family.

If you’ve had it up to here with bickering, conflict and sibling rivalry issues, you can tell your kids — as they tussle for the umpteenth time over the crayons — “Work it out.” Then walk away (but keep an ear out).

Tools for the future

If you’ve made the effort to teach your kids certain rules and ideas about conflict resolution and tried to give them certain other relationship skills, at some point you need to let them use them.

Yes, you really do. You’re not always going to be available to solve every issue for your child, whether it’s about crayons or swings or whether the teacher said the homework was due Tuesday or Wednesday or who said what at the football game. Learning conflict resolution starts at home, as you know, and you need to give your kids the opportunity to use those skills. Letting your kids work out their issues at home gives them the opportunity to boost those skills and gives you the chance to coach — as needed.


When you encourage your kids to work out their own conflicts, you aren’t leaving them hanging without any support. While, yes, you do need to let them do it, you are nearby and can coach — if asked. If your kids are just not making it to that resolution, you can teach them to ask for specific help creating a resolution.

This does not mean you solve it for them, but you can lead them toward finding the resolution themselves. It’s asking each of your kids, “What do you think is a fair resolution?” or “What are some of the ways you could talk to each other that would be more likely to make progress?”

Remember: You can give kids all the conflict resolution tools you want, but if you never let them use them, it’s practically like you didn’t teach them those skills at all. Letting kids work out some of their own sibling conflicts in a safe environment with some coaching can be one of the best ways to teach problem-solving skills to your kids.

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