Sibling Fights: Should Parents Intervene?


There are countless reasons why two brothers can argue or fight. Faced with children’s discussions, fathers and mothers often find themselves faced with a dilemma: “Do I solve the conflict or is it better for them to solve it themselves?”

In order to address this issue, it is necessary to understand what factors underlie children’s arguments, what they are for and, if necessary, when and how to intervene.

Emotions and temperament

Joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust are the six emotions considered primary, which exist in humans from the early stages of maturational development. This means that people are already born with a predisposition for understanding and expressing emotions.

Gradually, from the age of three, secondary emotions appear which, although they are based on the primary ones, are more complex and are conditioned by the environment: jealousy, envy, empathy, pride, etc. All of these emotions play an essential role in human experience, survival, and development; Through them, our way of perceiving and sensitizing ourselves to the world is being shaped .

Children’s emotions: changing and intense

Emotions, during childhood, have certain peculiarities: above all their versatility (they can go from one emotion to another with relative ease), their intensity (the emotion invades them completely) and their simplicity (emotional complexity develops with age). experience).

Emotions are closely related to temperament, a series of innate behaviors in response to environmental stimuli. In psychology, we distinguish three basic temperaments: difficult, slow and easy , depending on a series of variables such as the amount of movement, the regulation of sleep, eating and excretion, the degree of distraction, the response to novelty, the adaptation to changes in the environment, the amount of time the child spends on an activity, the threshold of sensitivity, the intensity of the reaction and the general mood.

Temperament is the biological part of personality. This remains static and stable during maturational development.

Siblings resemble each other more than two people without a socio-affective bond. However, the most outstanding differences between them are aspects that depend on temperament. Precisely for this reason, in the family environment, differences in temperament traits will influence the nature of the relationships they have.

The ‘usefulness’ of discussions

Although children’s arguments can create an uncomfortable family climate, they have their uses: they allow children to identify what makes them angry, learn to set limits and develop problem management strategies, among other things.

Likewise, they are part of a learning process in which social norms are transmitted and established. These allow the child to understand reality in the different contexts in which it moves.

The aptitudes obtained as a result of these childhood situations will be useful for promoting emotional development, social interaction and managing difficulties in adult life .

Lead by example

Among the things that fathers and mothers can do to ensure that this maturation process develops in the most productive way possible, one that may be obvious makes the difference: acting towards children in the way that we would like them to. they will act when related to each other.

This is what the Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura ‘s theory of social learning defends in the scientific field , which states that human beings learn from the observation of other people whom we call models .

The child brain

Observing the adults around them may not be enough for children to learn conflict resolution strategies. It is essential to know a few brushstrokes about the child’s brain in order to understand some of its behaviors and reactions.

Neuroscience shows that the emotional part of the brain, that is, the part that is in charge of emotions, is complete from birth. On the other hand, the rational part, whose fundamental role is the selection of behavior, self-regulation and self-control, has just developed around the age of 20 .

That is to say: children have many emotions, but no one to control them.

The role of parents: emotional education

Children may not have enough strategies to solve their problems on their own. In these cases, it is important that parents act as mediators, offering them guidelines so that, little by little, they integrate them into their behavioral repertoire and end up being able to manage problems on their own .

Some issues to consider in this mediation are:

  1. Keep calm. It is important that parents act as role models for their children. Therefore, maintaining a calm demeanor will help children establish appropriate emotional and behavioral regulation patterns.
  2. Give children time for the emotional part to calm down and the rational part to take over. Adults, when they experience a very intense emotion (especially if it is negative), also need a moment to self-regulate emotionally.
  3. Do not position yourself for any of the children.
  4. Validate emotionally: accept the emotions of the children, without judgments. Even if the emotions are negative, avoid changing them quickly; it is positive that children experience all kinds of emotions.
  5. Label emotions. Children need to identify and understand what emotion they are feeling in order to subsequently regulate it.
  6. Encourage empathy: “How do you think your brother feels now?”
  7. Promote assertive communication. The moments of conflict are key to determining what is not working in the relationship. It is essential to communicate assertively, that is, to have the ability to express one’s own feelings and needs clearly without disrespecting or underestimating the other.

However, there may be situations in which parents should intervene directly (violent arguments, abuse between siblings…). In these situations it is important to remain calm, separate them and wait for both of them to integrate the emotions they are feeling in order to subsequently be able to apply the strategies discussed above.

Author Bios: Alejandro Cano Villagrasa is Professor in the Degree of Speech Therapy and Psychology at the International University of Valencia and Nadia Porcar Gozalbo who is a Speech therapist at the University of Valencia