Improving Relationships Between Brothers And Sisters



Any advice for a brother and sister who fight like cats and dogs?


Chronic sibling conflict is one of the more challenging problems faced by parents trying to raise children in a peaceful and emotionally healthy family.  Parents expect some degree of trouble when brothers wrestle or sisters bicker, but are often perplexed and ineffective when the sibling wars are between the genders. The degree of vitriol and ensuing detachment makes it especially difficult to intervene in a meaningful and sustaining manner. It becomes easy for one or both kids to routinely reject the other since the same gender sibling bond does not draw them together on common ground.


If your home is too often a bitter stage for war between the genders read on for coaching tips to pursue peaceful co-existence: 


Take this problem very seriously. Many parents minimize the lasting effects of spiteful rejections between brothers and sisters. Don’t allow denial to lull you into the shortsighted view that all will be forgotten when they grow up.  It is more likely that the scars of verbal and/or physical attacks will be lasting and ruinous to their adult relationship.  Explain this to the two of them and emphasize how parents must act as guardians of future family relationships by stepping in when brothers and sisters fail the healthy bond in childhood test. If they ask about that provide examples of all the damage you have witnessed already.


Demonstrate firm resolve about the unacceptability of bullying, harassing, and outright mean-spirited behavior. If both of them are guilty of these negative treatments of one another both should experience appropriate consequences and be responsible for participating in a reparative activity. A meaningful apology is more than “I’m sorry.” It involves acknowledging mistakes, listening without conditions, expressing understanding of the other’s point of view, and problem solving ways to control the reflex to reject and pursue the path of peaceful opposition if preferences and views don’t match up. Emphasize that privileges are placed on hold until both participate.


Teach them to use the speaker-listener method where they take turns concisely sharing  their point of view and feeding back what they heard to ensure understanding. If possible, practice this among all family members so that they see the same sex parent using the method. Prompt them to enlist this strategy when you hear or see the early warning signs of conflict. Next, guide them to reach solutions to longstanding problem points in their relationship by having them brainstorm ideas and the pros and cons. Emphasize the importance of requesting parental help when they reach a stalemate in  negotiations.


Provide opportunities for positive partnering in family decision making.  Since conflict often begins with petty arguments over minor matters, parents can preempt this dynamic by offering  “bonding rewards” when they arrive at mutual decisions that entail sensitively listening to each other and reaching an agreeable solution. Such rewards should entail activities or possessions that signify their successful growth as sibling teammates.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450