Sibling Arguments: What’s Normal?

The kids are back at school today and the house is a tip, but it’s very, very quiet.

We were away over half term and stayed in a riad in Marrakech. It was a small one, only three bedrooms so we had the place to ourselves. And it was just as well really, because our kids make a lot of noise.

Some of it is good noise- when the kids are happy, or excited or playing nicely. But quite a lot of it is not-so-good noise- when the kids are whining, tantrumming or arguing.

We seem to have a lot of squabbling these days.

Mainly it seems to be between the two sets of similar aged children; so it’s usually between DD1 and DD2 or DD3 or DS . But there are no hard and fast rules; any two, or three, or even four of them will disagree given half a chance. None of them are the backing down types, so things can get heated and I’m afraid that they even get physical with each other on occasions.

Sisterly love

When this happens, we step in and make it quite clear that touching someone in anger is not acceptable. The warring parties are separated, I listen to a heap of  he-said, she-said and then they are sent to cool down in different parts of the house if necessary.

Unfortunately DH and I sometimes find ourselves arguing with our children as well. Most of the time we are not sure how it happens; one minute we are asking them to take something to their rooms, the next moment we are yelling ‘Because I said so!’ and the child involved is screaming that they hate us and threatening to involve Childline. Occasionally, in a textbook display of displaced aggression, my husband and I end up yelling at each other as well.

Obviously it’s not ideal for parents to be bellowing angrily at their children and this is a work in progress for DH and I, but inter sibling aggression is completely normal of course. Isn’t it? We are told it’s a way of children learning important life skills like when to stand their ground, when to back down, why they shouldn’t goad others to the point of aggression and how to calm things down when it all goes pear shaped. But when does a bit of squabbling between sisters become something more, like bullying?

It’s a fine line, points out this article on the BBC website. But no one seems to know exactly where that line is, or what the affect of frequent sibling arguments is on our children.  It is thought that it may be very similar to the effects of bullying at school, which is a sobering thought.

The only advice given is, if parents are worried they should speak to a health professional. But we are told that one of the predictors for brothers and sisters fighting is ‘when siblings perceive there to be a wide disparity between how they are treated and how their brother and sister are treated.’

In our house the words ‘It’s not fair’ are hurled around frequently, so the BBC may be on to something there. But the thing is that life isn’t fair. That’s what we tell our children when they complain that their packet of crisps had one more crisp that their sister’s, or that their little brother gets asked to do less around the house than they do.

I don’t know that there is a solution , but if you have one, then please share it below. Because for us, the fighting seems to be getting worse as they get older and more opinionated and we haven’t even reached the teenage years yet.




4 comments on “Sibling Arguments: What’s Normal?

  1. No advice but a lot of gratitude…. you’ve made me realise that we’re not alone. Our children squabble a lot. In fact I must remind myself to do a time and motion study on it at some point to see exactly how much of the day is spent engaged in the brewing of, participating in, and resolving these squabbles.
    But in fairness, we are a very vocal family – and I grew up in a similar household. My brother and sister and I were very – ahem – ‘vocal’ with one another. On the plus side, nothing festers, it’s all ‘out there’.

  2. A very honest post and a reassuring one because your house sounds very much like ours! It really is exhausting isn’t it? I do think it’s normal and most of ours relates to one child in particular thinking that life isn’t fair. The reality is, it isn’t fair but home is a safe and loving place for them to experience that…..most of the time! I also wonder how many of us wouldn’t fall out with someone who they spend 80% of their day with and 100% during the school holidays. People can be irritating can’t they? We do what you advise…..time out to cool off and then I give them each a chance to have their say and encourage them to find an agreement. The downside for them is that if they have involved me, then some money comes off their weekly allowance – fair dos I think!

  3. It happens here too – though I sometimes wonder if they do it for my benefit sometimes, like a kind of attention seeking.
    In the past I have tried various things including what I called zero tolerance so whenever the fighting started I would just leave the room or turn off the TV or something similar. Calmly and without comment, once I’d told them what I was going to do. When I stuck to it it was effective because they realised that they’d all be deprived of something if they didn’t get along – or at least not do their fighting where it bothered me.

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