Diffusing Sibling Fights
Everyday Parenting / Parenting

Everyday Parenting: How to Defuse Any Sibling Argument

afflinkThis post is part of a series documenting everyday respectful parenting moments. Reading real life parenting examples inspires me. I also find it helpful to look back on situations and think about what went well or what didn’t. Maybe you will too!


Parenting: How to Defuse Any Sibling Argument

One of my favourite things to watch is my kids getting along and playing happily together. Giggling and cooperating, sharing and helping. It’s beautiful! Of course, it’s not always the case. When you spend as much time together as siblings do, there’s bound to be disagreements. As much as I can, I’ve tried to foster close and respectful relationships and one of the ways I do that is by how I respond when they fight.

Honestly, hearing them fight frustrates me! I instantly want to sort it out and make them stop. But that’s a pretty unhelpful approach. What I TRULY want is for them to be able to peacefully sort out their disagreements themselves. So I need to help them do that.

It usually starts with an accusation. ‘She did this’, ‘she said that’, ‘she won’t let me do this’, etc. Blaming is not a good place to be if you want to resolve an argument, so here’s where I come in.

As the very wise Marshall Rosenberg said “Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.”

I need to transform their judgements and blame, into feelings and needs. If I can help them to stop focusing on blaming others and instead empathise with them and identify their feelings and needs, then they will be in a much better place to begin working things out.

Parenting: How to Defuse Any Sibling Argument

What it looks like…

Here’s a few examples I jotted down recently:

“She ate all the watermelon.”

“Are you feeling disappointed because you really wanted some more watermelon?”

“She didn’t leave any for me!”

“Are you frustrated because you would have liked to be considered?”

“She ate it really fast on purpose so I couldn’t get any! She wasn’t sharing.”

“You sound angry because you really value fairness.”


“She’s being annoying!”

“You’re feeling annoyed?”

“She keeps singing and she’s annoying me on purpose!”

“You sound frustrated because you really need some space right now.”


“She snatched the pencil off me!!”

“You had the pencil, and now she has the pencil?”

“She just snatched it meanly on purpose!!”

“You sound upset because you would like to be asked before someone uses your things.”


“You’re a meany!!”

“You sound angry and frustrated. Can you tell me about it?”

“She’s trying to hurt my feelings! She said I can’t do the cooking with her.”

“You’re feeling hurt because you would like to be included?”

Parenting: How to Defuse Any Sibling Argument

In each case I have tried to rephrase their accusations into feelings and unmet needs. Blaming and shaming only damages relationships and blocks any compassion or empathy for the other person. It’s really hard to problem solve when you’re feeling so angry at someone else. I usually find that just the act of being understood is enough to resolve the problem. Sometimes they do need further help but I just continue to do the same thing. Helping them to express themselves and their needs to each other without judgement.

Next time you’re in the middle of a sibling argument, just simply look for the feelings and unmet needs that are fuelling the fight! The added bonus is by empathising and acknowledging your children’s needs you also build the connection between the two of you. Worth a try?












September 24, 2016 at 3:15 am

These are great! Is there a resource that Has more examples? It’s helpful to read through other examples and to think about what I will say to my kids as they argue.

September 30, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Love it! At the PET training they say the same, just no question mark. I mean, you just repeat what happened, giving a name at the emotions. Then kids will open up! Amazing!

May 6, 2017 at 4:48 am

Any suggestions on where to get more examples like this? Or maybe book suggestions? I can often get to the first thing I need to say, but struggle where to go after that. This mom needs some more modeling 🙂 thanks!

June 20, 2017 at 4:45 pm

My two boys just go straight into attacking and punching each other, really quite aggressively. It’s very rare that one of them will even speak before they launch into fighting. Last night for example Mr 4 deliberately bumped Mr 3’s row of blocks – he said to stop – and then Mr 4 grabbed a block and started hitting Mr 3 in the head 🙁 it all happens in a split second. Tiredness didn’t help there, and the weather is really hot at the moment here. But this kind of thing happens multiple times a day. It really wears me down and I’m reacting less and less how I want to. Often my hands are full with my 6 month old or I’m trying to make food etc when it happens. If I’m right there with them and talking through what’s happening while they play we avoid it, but I just can’t do that for the entire day. Any words of advice! I’m really struggling right now!

June 20, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Sometime I ask ” what is it that you did?” after hearing she did, he did. Often makes them stop and think about the situation quite differently.

August 12, 2019 at 5:26 am

I have only begun to apply this. But I can wholeheartedly say Thank you very very much. I will keep studying this for peacemaking…as it may prove to work with adults as well.
Thank you so much for publishing this brief wise post.

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