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If you have multiple children, one of the most common topics that will be brought up is conflict with siblings or other family members. Here are some guidelines on how to address them:

Step 1: Give them time to speak

Give the child bringing the complaint up to 2 or 3 minutes of uninterrupted time to discuss their side of the situation. Help them state their grievance precisely without rambling on. When they are done, allow the other party the same amount of uninterrupted time to respond.

Step 2: Focus on fixing the problem

Approach each issue as a problem that needs to be addressed rather than a matter of right versus wrong, victim versus troublemaker. AVOID ANY AND ALL JUDGMENT TERMS. These put people on the defensive and make them feel they are being attacked. Their instinct is then to lash out at others in return or shrink away into a shell, neither of which are conductive to solving the problem.

Your focus should be on correcting the situation that is not working for someone, not trying to label the person at fault or exact vengeance for perceived wrongs. Start the discussion by laying down some ground rules. For example, no hurting each other (physically or emotionally), respecting property, respecting other people’s feelings and desires, and so on. Then ask the family as a whole for potential remedies to this problem.

Make sure children are actively involved in coming up with solutions. Don’t solve their problems for them; facilitate the conversation that allows them to solve issues on their own. It’s certainly okay to provide suggestions, but avoid the tendency to dictate. Not only does this allow for important practice in conflict resolution, but when kids are involved in deciding their own solutions, they have more of a vested interest in abiding by them. This means more cooperation and fewer hassles later.

Additional tips for resolving conflict:

  1. To keep disputes from turning into a gripe session, create a rule that every complaint must be accompanied by something positive.

  1. Encourage people to talk to each other with “I” statements rather than “You” statements:

“I feel bad when . . . as opposed to “You make me feel bad when . . .”


“I get frustrated when you talk like that: as opposed to “You are so annoying . . .”

  1. Some families might even create a “family code of conduct” document. As different issues come up, create a set of guidelines that pertain to this type of problem. Don’t get too detailed; you want to create a charter based on principles of kindness, empathy, and responsibility; not a set of rigid or imposing rules. Simply discussing and creating these guidelines is an exercise that can improve behavior and reduce conflict.


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