Family Conflict School-aged siblings

Are You Blinded By The Rivalry?

Family Conflict School-aged siblings
Graphics by BFB, Source Unsplash

6 Gems You Might Be Overlooking in Parenting

Brothers and sisters family relationships are synonymous with fighting. If you are a parent with more than one child you know the drama of sibling conflict. The pettiness of persistent arguing, competition, and tattling can make a mother or father want to flee their own home. While I know this is a common experience in many families there are some positive elements in the sibling bond that can be hidden in the shadows. My aim in this post is to increase our awareness of opportunities to possibly be grateful and thus more happy in our role as parents.

1.  Coded Communication

Brothers and sisters often have a secret code they share in their communication with each other that outsiders, like parents, don’t understand. The sibling coded communication can be gestures, notes, text messages sent to each others’ cell or, mystery words hidden in open dialogue. Siblings code each other  sometimes with threats, but most often it is used to share information or to request for cover-up by the other party. If your kids are sharing secret messages it’s a clue of a supportive element hidden in the typical sibling rivalry.


2. Comraderie

Some siblings have the maternal ear to hear and recognise the unique cry pitch of their younger sibling that translates “help”. They will leave the other side of the room, playground, or  mall to find out what’s happenning.
When outsiders come against or threaten one sibling the other comes forcibly to their defense. The typical warring parties put aside their differences and stand firm to protect each other. It is not often seen in the public eye because, who wants to be seen defending their annoying little sister, but, it’s a heart-tugger to behold. “No, you can’t do that to my sister”. “That is hers give it back to her now.” You see your son stand between your daughter and the child provoking her.

3. Inclusion of Brother or Sister

When my little girl starting going to school at kindergarten, my son was in grade 5. There were days she didn’t feel like working through the kindergarten playground social politics. Instead, she would ask her older brother if she could play with him. You know what?  I’m surprised how often he and his friends included her in their basketball games at recess time.
It doesn’t always happen, sometimes a younger child’s desire to be included by their sibling is the source of conflict,  but it can happen, I have had lunch supervisors attest to it. Look out for it. Having compassion on a sibling who is feeling left out is a building block of what could later grow into a caring nurturing relationship.

4. Seeking Security and Comfort

Scary things can happen in the lives of kids. It could be a being threatened by a bully,  nightmares, or shared exposure to domestic violence in the home. When kids are scared they often seek comfort and shelter in the presence of another sibling. In the case where parents are not at their best capacity (due to addictions, over-employment, mental health struggles) the sibling bond substitutes for the parent-child bond. As a family counsellor I have seen cases where this  substitution can become dysfunctional at extremes, nevertheless, a balanced close secure sibling attachment typically is a positive resiliency factor. Kids in well functioning families tell me that they reach out to their siblings when they are scared at night, when they are upset with a parent or, when they have a secret to share.

5. Words of Encouragement
Frustration is the most difficult emotion for young children. They are just experimenting and learning new skills and when they do not perform to their satisfaction they can tantrum or show avoidance of the activity. A caring sibling might then come alongside them and offer words of encouragement. “Don’t give up Nancy, you can do it…just try one more time, I’ll help you”..This is frequently evident in families where children have a sibling with special needs (aspergers, adhd, autism, learning disability, physical disability, etc). Peer support and encouragement helps to boost self-esteem, grit, and the growth mindset for success.

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Being The Enlightened Calm Mom or Dad

A strategic parent is aware of weaknesses, limitations, and hidden strengths. Looking at your children through the lens of the hidden strengths will maximise your capacity to maintain your inner peace in the waves of conflict. Empowered with the vision of potential you can now intentionally provide more opportunities for growth in these areas. (Get more connection tips in our post: How This Mom Helps Her Kids Get Along, shared by our guest blogger Ellie Hirsch).

However don’t bury your head in the sand if conflict is destructive. Sometimes sibling conflict can be dangerous. Seek advice from a trusted friend or psychologist,  if a child’s emotional or physical health is at risk.

The tasks and phases of child development should typically support the increase in social skills (better conflict management, emotional regulation, and the expression of positive warmth and regard.)


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Related Parenting Resources

Links to Help Families  

How This Mom Helps Her Kids Get Along  

Siblings in Family Play Therapy

Books for Parents 

Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings

Siblings Without Rivalry

Books for Kids on Sibling Relationship

Siblings You Are Stuck Together so Stick Together

How to Take the GRR Out Of Anger

Bratty Brothers and Selfish Sisters

Give It Back – a storybook for kids 3-8 years old.

No, Its Mine – A storybook for kids 3-8 years old

Published by Help For Families Canada

Help for Families Canada is a counselling and consulting organisation serving Edmonton, locally, and families, globally. We specialise in offering child and family therapy for kids and parents via play therapy interventions.

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