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Guidance officer - family squabbles


​Family squabbles

Parents often worry about brothers and sisters quarrelling. A certain amount of quarrelling is normal for children in families. It is one of the ways that they learn how to get on with other people. Quarrelling can be positive. Sometimes, however, you will need to step in when tempers become frayed and you can see that things are getting out of control.

What causes quarrelling?

Learning to get on with others, Arguments between brothers and sisters are one of the ways that children learn to respect other people’s belongings and feelings. It is one of the ways children learn to solve problems. Learning to argue fairly and without hurting each other will help them get on with others.

Parents’ attention

Children in families also fight about parents’ love and attention. To children love means time and attention. Young children do require more attention, but allocating time to an older child is just as important and will make for better relationships all round.


When feeling unwell resistance can be low for coping with adversity. We may be more sensitive to comments and less able to manage our own emotions.

What parents can do?

Here are some steps you can take to help lessen quarrels.
  • Protect the needs of each child, for example prevent older children’s activities from being interfered with by younger children and vice versa.
  • Spend special time with each child on a regular basis.
  • Allow each child to own some special things of their own that they don’t have to share. For younger children, see that there are more than one of the same toys, such as matchbox cars, so that they can play together without having to share. Two second hand tricycles are often better fun than one new one that has to be shared. If you have three children make sure that the same one is not left out every time.
  • Invite other children over – children learn social skills through exposure and practise.
  • Children need their own bit of space which will not be interfered with by others, even if it is only a drawer.
  • Try not to compare children with each other - this always leads to bad feelings.
  • Be generous with hugs and affection to all your children.
  • Make ground rules. Get your children to help you make some rules about what behaviour is not allowed in your home, for example name calling or hitting. Then if you have to step in, you do so because someone has broken a rule, not to take sides.
  • When you can see that children are feeling upset, help them to find ways to express their feelings by talking about feelings. Play that helps with feelings includes water play, painting and playdough. For older children and adolescents it may be something like going for a run or playing their music. Talk with them about what helps.

Maintain good health  - Healthy active children may exhibit greater tolerance / resilience  and manage their emotions more appropriately when needed.

Children need adults to teach them how to solve problems, and while squabbles may be annoying and stressful they also may be the means of teaching resilience as well as developing skills for managing relationships throughout our lives.

Adapted from `Parenting SA’, Government of South Australia.