According to the 2023 Census Bureau, the vast majority of children have a sibling, statistics being as high as seventy-nine percent. Sibling relationships may be the longest-lasting relationships in our lives, but that is not to say that any sibling relationship is without conflict. Because of the similarity in age and the amount of time spent together, conflict is more likely between siblings. Not all conflicts are created equal, some can be wiped away and forgotten easily and some leave lasting and devastating effects on the family.

Is Sibling Conflict A Serious Concern?

A serious concern is an issue that we find difficult to resolve. A serious concern can bring stress, anxiety, distress and sadness, which may create more confusion and cloud judgment. Sometimes we may need help when working on a serious issue, and that’s okay, because sometimes even the helpers need some help. In order to address a serious issue, we need to first understand the issue as a whole. Sometimes we find that a serious issue has many recurring parts, people or places driving its cause. We must work to identify all aspects of the issue, including our role in it, to properly address it. And, that may require help, assistance and understanding prior to attempting to resolve it. We may be able to resolve it on our own, but that can take time and more stress. Why work so hard when it can be done with the help of a neutral person? How do you know when a fight has gotten out of hand or stepped past “normal” sibling conflict?

What Is A Normal Relationship Between Siblings?

Normal is what any individual may perceive to be their comfort level of functioning. An issue that may arise is that one’s normal may be abnormal to another. Your normal may not be my normal but if we can both coexist in the same space with peace and tranquility, then one could say that our two different perspectives of normals are both normal. If one comes from an environment of hostility and chaos, then relocate to an environment where there is peace and structure, would the one perceive the structured environment as abnormal? Is normal a space where we can thrive and live prosperous as best we can with minimal negativity, a peaceful mind and have unity with others who are not like us, have different traditions, views and ways of life, yet share the same outcomes of thriving and living prosperous with minimal negativity, a peace of mind and unity?

Comparison is hard, especially with parents. We learn to parent from our parents, which may not always be ideal. Our kids may not behave like other kids their age, for better or for worse. This may make us question our parenting skills and be highly critical of your own skills. Your family’s normal may not look like someone else’s normal. It is noble to try to use the best parenting skills possible and may be necessary to ask for help, especially in certain areas, but no parent is perfect!

Understanding Fighting

There are different types of fighting. Relational aggression as defined by Stauffacher and DeHart (2005) could be defined as “Any verbal or nonverbal behaviors that (a) excluded or ignored the partner, (b) threatened to exclude or ignore the partner, (c) intentionally embarrassed or humiliated the partner in front of others, (d) tried to damage the relationship the partner has with a third partner, (e) threatened to damage the relationship the partner has with a third party, and (f) attacked or insulted the partner’s relationship with a target. (p. 192)” Manipulation is a different type of fighting. Manipulation requires an individual to see another’s vulnerabilities, be willing to use those vulnerabilities against that individual, and to conceal aggressive intent (Simon, 2010).

Both methods can be distressing to individuals affected by fighting, whether that be siblings, parents or others in the house. Through fighting, children may be trying to understand different perspectives or may want a need met or to feel heard. Understanding why the fighting is occurring because it may point to unmet emotional needs, greater socialization needs or concerns, or underlying mental health issues.

Do All Siblings Fight?

Sibling conflict has been an issue since the beginning of time. If you ever went to Bible school as a child, you would remember the story of Kane and Abele. Sibling Rivalry can be difficult to understand because the rivalry between siblings could stem from many circumstances such as: same mother, different fathers or the opposite, other relatives’ treatment towards the siblings whereas one child gets more attention, support or special treatment. What about gender (boy and girl), whereas one gets special treatment than the other because of their gender. What about differences in looks, eye color, hair color or hair texture, or different skin color. What about height or weight? Does the skinny child get more attention than the not so skinny child? How about the difference in talent? Does the child singer or athlete get more attention than the child that doesn’t possess those talents? And let’s not forget that each child has different personalities and may require different types of parenting, rearing and nurturing. One may require more hugs and kisses, or more attention, whereas some children prefer to play alone and are able to entertain themselves and prefer less attention.

Siblings are unique in that they all have their own way of learning the environment and that’s okay. We as parents and siblings may want to understand this and adjust accordingly. It is difficult to love our kids and/or siblings the same way when our kids and/ or our siblings think, act and do differently. The more we as parents and/or a sibling understand this, the better we can adjust to how we interact and maintain a healthy, different but equal relationship with our children and siblings.

Stocker, Burwell, and Briggs (2002) found that although all siblings fight, individuals who have greater emotional understanding of self, can have more empathy towards others and have greater understanding when things go wrong. Having a deeper insight into one’s own emotional status and understanding of others can help children be more social in a positive manner, in all of their relationships, including with siblings.

Parenting Styles

Parenting styles can have an effect on how often and how aggressive fighting can be for siblings. A recent study showed that there is a smaller chance for fighting when authoritative parenting was used. Authoritative parenting is parenting where there are clear boundaries and parents have rules and are consistent with their words, but are also warm and receptive to their children’s feelings (Liu & Rahman, 2022).

There is a bigger chance for fighting when authoritarian and indulgent parenting styles were used. Authoritarian parents are highly demanding and may be seen as a “dictator” of a house and may be very controlling over their children, and are missing the warmth and emotional connection that authoritative parents have. Authoritarian parents often may give direction to their children without explaining the importance of the direction.
Indulgent parents, also known as permissive parents, see the importance of being emotionally present for their children but lack the discipline and boundaries to be authoritative. Indulgent parents do not require their children to act in a manner consistent with what their age appropriate behaviors should be.

There was a significantly bigger chance for fighting when neglectful or inconsistent parenting styles are present. Neglectful parents do not meet the emotional needs for their child and they do not hold boundaries for their child; these parents may not be around at all. Finally, there is the inconsistent parenting style, which displays parents that may bounce back and forth between parenting styles but does not hold true in any of them (Liu & Rahman, 2022).

How Do You Know If Sibling Conflict Puts A Child At Higher Risk For Harm?

There are also certain circumstances that happen in families that make fighting more likely. A family has a certain “homeostasis” or level that is viewed as “normal” in that family. Divorce, death of a family member, trauma, abuse, drug/alcohol abuse, or new people coming into the family may mess with that homeostasis. When a family system is thrown off balance by one of these events, tension in the family rises, making everyone more on-edge, meaning higher anxiety levels and heightened risk of conflict. If something has occurred in your family system and you’re worried about problematic fighting between siblings, you may need more help. Sometimes the best choice a parent can make is stepping outside of the familiar family and finding more resources to help the family AND the child.

How To Know When Counseling Might Help?

Counseling, especially with role-playing techniques and discussing potential outcomes, has been proven to be effective in helping avoid and deal with sibling arguments. These strategies show the importance of sharing, discussing emotions when they come up, asking nicely, and coping skills for when a child needs to handle an unwanted outcome (Thomas & Roberts, 2008).

It takes courage to ask for help. It helps if we view reaching for help as a resource and a tool we can use, not as an admission of defeat. If we are dealing with an issue that seems to have no resolve and it takes up alot of our energy, time, and causes emotional distress, counseling may help. If we are experiencing any stages of loss and we feel stuck in any of the stages, counseling can help? If whatever is causing distress and we feel that we are alone and cannot find it in us to face it alone, counseling can help. If we feel our feelings too deeply and act them out too intensely, counseling can help. If we are experiencing difficulty with resolving dilemmas, situations, conflicts, problems and it seems to have no end, counseling can help. If we feel that we are well balanced in the world but still feel unhappy, counseling can help. If we feel sad, hopeless, depressed, angry, anxious, fearful, and don’t know why, counseling can help. For all other concerns, counseling can help. It’s okay to be nervous about what that process may look like and what you can expect.

Addressing sibling concerns can be addressed in a number of manners. Allowing children to have quality time in shared fantasy play or engaging in positive shared experiences and being able to discuss happy memories can help bring children more warmth and kindness into the relationship. Family sessions can be helpful in counseling children by allowing the entire family to better understand the dynamics of the relationships present. Children may use “triangulation” or going to a parent complaining about the other child and it can be very discouraging to parents to continue to try to keep the peace when children don’t seem to be able to work things out for themselves. It can also be very frustrating to not know what to say or how to approach those conversations as a parent (Kramer, 2014).

Children may perceive parental differential treatment, whether it is there or not. Children often look for ways in which they may be treated differently from other siblings. Children often compare themselves to their peers, and especially to their siblings so it is very common for children to believe that their siblings are being treated better or being allowed more time, energy, love or items than themselves. Working in family therapy can allow children to have a deeper understanding of a parent’s affection and how it looks in the family unit (Kramer, 2014).

What To Expect In Counseling?

In counseling, you can expect to be respected as an individual with unique strengths and characteristics. You can expect to:

  • Be treated with care
  • Be understood and not judged
  • Have privacy which is called confidentiality in counseling
  • Be helped in the manner which you desire
  • Not be told what you should do, think or feel
  • Be guided to find your own peace and understanding through your own personal strengths that you may or may not have known that you possess
  • Gain an alley who has your personal interest and growth at heart
  • Have the freedom to express yourself and be heard
  • Enter a safe environment where you can feel protected
  • Be provided with the tools needed to support and empower yourself emotionally and productively

Find A Counselor Today

If you are looking for a family counselor to support your children and your family, especially with sibling conflict, we offer family counseling at all four of our locations: Albertville / Boaz, Huntsville, Jacksonville, and Jasper. Contact us at (256) 239-5662 to learn more.

More About Siblings and Family


Bureau, U. C. (2023, April 19). National Siblings Day: April 10, 2023.

Kramer, L. (2014). Learning emotional understanding and emotion regulation through sibling interaction. Early Education and Development, 25(2), 160–184.

Liu, C., & Rahman, M. N. (2022). Relationships between parenting style and sibling conflicts: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 13.

Simon, G. K. (2010). In sheep’s clothing: Understanding and dealing with manipulative people. Little Rock, AR: Parkhurst Brothers.

Stauffacher, K., & DeHart, G. B. (2005). Preschoolers’ relational aggression with siblings and with friends. Early Education & Development, 16, 185–206.

Stocker, C., Burwell, R. A., & Briggs, M. L. (2002). Sibling conflict in middle childhood predicts children’s adjustment in early adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 16, 50–57. doi:10.1037=0893-3200.16.1.50

Thomas, B. W., & Roberts, M. W. (2008, December 10). Sibling conflict resolution skills: Assessment and training – journal of child and family studies. SpringerLink.