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My Children Are Like Enemies!

Home. A peaceful abode, or not! What to do when your children are in conflict most of the time.

Misconceptions about sibling arguments

For older children*

  • All siblings must be punished no matter who was at fault. A form of discipline that’s done in school, youth see this as a parent being unfair when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

  • Youth are old enough to resolve conflicts and should be left alone. If youth do not learn appropriate steps for conflict resolution, resentment and bitterness can breed and affect the atmosphere at home.

True for all ages

  • Older child(ren) must always give in to the younger child(ren)

  • Older child(ren) is/are superior to and have nothing to learn from the younger one(s)

  • Sibling rivalry is normal, a passing phase

  • Competition among siblings is healthy

  • When arguments occur, someone must be in the wrong

Preventing the fight

What parents can do to maintain the peace, promote and establish good sibling relationships

For younger children^

  • Teach the value of respect Children are not to touch their sibling’s property without permission.

  • Model how children should talk to one another No raised voices. Always say “please” and “thank you.”

  • Be fair Give differential treatment based on the children’s likes and dislikes, not out of bias. If one child likes a certain kind of food and there is only one piece left, let him/her have it. If both children want the last piece of food, cut it in half.

  • Involve older siblings in caring for the younger ones (e.g., bringing the baby bottle or diapers, telling a story or singing a song)

  • Deal with the child’s heart before changing his/her behavior Encourage children to develop the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), helping them to process their thoughts, actions, and feelings to determine whether they are “fruitful.” Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to discern: they know what is right and wrong even at a very young age.

For older children*

  • Focus on helping your children build their relationship with God When their love for God is strong, they will allow God to mold their character to be more loving towards one another.

  • Promote family bonding

  • Given increasingly-independent schedules, incorporate times where the family will come together for activities everyone enjoys. Establishing this may be difficult in the beginning but don’t give up! Start small, like family dinner a few times a week. Have all mobile devices put away so that there’s undivided attention.

True for all ages

  • Pray for your children Ask the Holy Spirit to show you areas where your child(ren) need specific prayer (e.g., their mind, their walk with God, relationships).

  • Avoid all of the following actions - Perceived favoritism – Be fair in allocating time and resources. - Putting down/criticizing one child in front of his/her sibling(s). - Comparing siblings – This can cause sibling rivalry by pitting them against each other. - Using one child’s bad behaviour and subsequent punishment as an example/warning to the other(s).

Reasons for the fight

Why are my children fighting?

For younger children^

  • Developmental milestones Younger children tend to take toys from their siblings. This means older children must learn to protect their toys.

  • Selfishness (e.g., holding on to a toy for too long)

For older children*

  • Self-absorbed In a society that primes youth to care only about themselves and their needs, siblings quickly forget that they are also called to look after one another.

  • Jealousy (e.g., one sibling has more freedom than the other, one sibling has better things than the other).

  • Lack of respect One sibling doesn’t respect the personal space/feelings of the other.

  • Unrealistic/unmet expectations One sibling feels that he/she isn’t treated the way he/she should be treated by his/her sibling.

True for all ages

  • Differences in personality

  • A bad mood

  • Perception that parents are not being fair

  • A desire to be irritating

^up to age 9

*age 10 and above

During the fight

What should parents do when siblings fight?

For younger children^

  • Stop the situation from escalating further. Give the children time to calm down before investigating.

  • Listen to both sides of the story. Show that you are trying to understand their point of view.

  • Remind children of the godly values the family lives by. Teach them how to apply it whenever a situation like this happens.

  • Assure children that the family is here to support one another at all times. There will be no judgment made for wrong behavior.

  • Reframe the situation. Be objective and ask what each child would have done differently.

  • Replay the situation. Ask each child to apply what was learned.

  • Have each child openly confess his/her part in the conflict.

  • Guide the children to apologize. - “I’m sorry (name of sibling) for (wrong action).” - “I’ll be more (godly action).” - “Please forgive me for (wrong action).”

  • Guide the children to accept the other’s apology. “I forgive you for (wrong action). Please don’t do that again.”

  • Praise each child for choosing to learn/adopt the right behaviour and actions.

  • Check whether both sides have reconciled. Neither child should remain in a whiny/ argumentative mood.

For older children*

Parents don’t have to step into every dispute, especially when it is trivial. However, if youth are no longer in control of their emotions (e.g., shouting, physical violence, tantrum-throwing, spiteful words), parents must step in to correct behavior and reiterate appropriate steps for conflict resolution.

  • Order a cool down period (15-30 minutes) to stop the shouting/fighting and allow each youth to get his/her emotions in a good place.

  • Reconvene to hear both sides of the story. No matter who started the fight, it takes two hands to clap. Both siblings are wrong for allowing the dispute to escalate.

  • Have each sibling apologize to each other for his/her role in the dispute. This is to affirm the importance of accepting responsibility for one’s actions. If either insists that he/she did nothing wrong, reiterate how he/she played a part in escalating the dispute. Be firm about verbalizing fault.

  • Have each sibling accept the apology of the other. This is to affirm the importance of extending forgiveness and moving on. Be firm about verbalizing forgiveness.

  • Bring closure by affirming your love for each child with a word of encouragement and a hug.

^up to age 9

*age 10 and above

A big thank you to the parents who contributed to this article:

Jimmy and Sarah Chiang

Parents of Esther (6), Samuel (4), and Uel (21 months)

Karine Eu

Mother of Gabriel (4) and Joel (2)

Tricia Leong

Mother of Luke (8) and Zacchaeus (6)

Poh Ee-Lyn

Mother of Ethan (10) and Ryan (6)

Chris and Irene Yeo

Parents of Daniel (21) and Deborah (17)

This article was adapted from Issue 02/2017, Trinitarian Magazine


Reflect & Respond

  • Have your children been getting along these past two weeks? If they have not, why are they disagreeing/fighting? Use the Reasons for the Fight section if applicable.

  • How can you, as a parent/caregiver, model godly behavior and guide your children to begin to understand each other better, and to respond to one another appropriately?

  • How can you pray for and with your children?



This article is part of our R.E.S.E.T. Toolkit.

Refresh. Encourage. Strengthen. Empower. Thrive.

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