Navigating Sibling Fighting with Toronto Mom Sarah Rosensweet

I never really got siblings – in the literal and not-so-literal sense. I’m an only child and have only great memories of our little family of three. (Here’s why). Siblings, from the outside looking in, seemed like big sisters were mean, big brothers indifferent, and younger siblings always wrecked things.

Then it happened to me. I became a mom of two boys. My immediate worry was “how could I possibly give our first the same amount of love and attention when his little brother was born?” My husband (one of four siblings) had his own take: “we’re giving him the greatest gift – a brother.”

Five years in, and I am starting to get it. My heart melts when I see my youngest looking wide-eyed at his big bro for assurance and how my eldest steps in to help him out. And I am in awe of their inside jokes and playtime make-believe worlds they’ve created together.

But they fight. Oh, do they fight and yell and argue. And while I’m told it’s natural, my heart breaks when they scream at each other “I am not your brother!”

Only child or not, managing these disagreements is a struggle. So I turned to parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet. The Toronto mom of three big kids helps parents navigate parenthood and build skills that their kids will use forever. On Sunday, April 30, 2017, she’ll be leading a workshop Sibling Rivalry 101 at the new West End Mamas.

While we all want to help our kids work out their own disputes, Sarah explains that in reality when leaving it up to them to sort out, “the dominant sibling will always win and the less dominant sibling is never able to stand up for themselves.”

So the next time the kids start bickering, Sarah offers this advice:

If they need help they will tell you.

When you hear them starting to argue – go over and say “I hear two boys who are having a problem. Would you like some help to figure it out?” This answers your question of when to step in and when to let them sort it out.

If they say they don’t need help you can remind them that in your family you use respectful voices when you are speaking to each other – no shouting or no yelling at each other. If they can’t follow this, you can say “It looks like you might need my help after all.”

Mediate rather than negotiate.

You are Switzerland. Even if you think you know who is right, or what is fair, you cannot weigh in. Any interference in this way really increases sibling rivalry.

A negotiator tries to solve the problem for the two parties. You don’t want to do that. You are a mediator. A mediator listens to each side, makes sure each side is understood, and helps the sides find a mutually agreeable win-win solution.

Give each sibling a voice.

Start with: “It looks like you guys have a problem. Don’t worry! We can work this out!” Give each child a chance to speak without interruption and present his side. Repeat it back to them with a “Do I have that right?” And then continue with “Who has an idea for how we can work this out?” Write down all solutions. Ask each child what they think would work. Repeat until you have a win/win solution.

Present the plan before starting.

Before you try this strategy, have a meeting with your children and tell them about the new plan so they know what to expect. Make sure they know they will each get a chance to speak uninterrupted. Remind them that they are not allowed to yell at each other. Introduce a family rule of Respectful Voices – even when you are angry. Everyone gets angry but we can choose not to act on it.

Get everyone calm first.

It won’t work if all or one of the siblings is too upset. In that case, take a few minutes for everyone to calm down. Allow for tears if needed. When everyone is relatively calm, start this process.

Remember it not easy and takes a lot of time.

You won’t have the time or inclination to manage every fight like this. But the more you can do it, the more they can do it on their own. Think of the life skills you are giving them!

Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 9, 12, and 16). Sarah helps parents become the parents they want to be- with a non-punitive, connection-based approach that that feels good and works. Sarah is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at