A Sibling Fight Survival Guide
Angry footsteps upstairs. Screams. “I hate you!” Slam. Fists, on a bedroom door. Then, inevitably, the unified shriek: “MOOOOMMM!”
That was the soundtrack of the year when my daughters were 11 and 12, shared a bedroom and fought like caged tigers.
As a parent, I was at a loss. It seemed as though every meal or car ride ended in misery, and I was convinced that our family life was ruined. I thought they would be at each other’s throats forever, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.
Brothers and sisters fight. Parent-reported and observational studies put the number of conflicts among young siblings (7 and under) at three to seven an hour. As the mother of four kids, now 12, 13, 14 and 17, I would have guessed way more.
Those fights are particularly upsetting for parents, because we know how important sibling relationships are. Our hope is that our children will be one another’s playmates at home and allies out in the world, and that they will be there for one another long after we are gone. But the development of those bonds is more complex than many parents imagine.
Siblings offer early, on-the-job training in how to work and live with other people. They also provide a crash course in how to manage intense emotions: envy, hatred, anger. In children of all ages, but especially younger children, the urge to compete for parental attention is innate. Among teenagers, sibling conflict helps them work out their need to differentiate from family and to set their own boundaries.