Siblings Fighting: A Summer of Conflict

Too much free time during summer vacation sets the stage for sibling fighting. Parent advice on reducing siblings fighting during summer vacation.

A parent writes: As the school year comes to a close, and summer vacation is just around the corner, my husband and I grow apprehensive. Without the structure and routine of school, our three kids become more unruly. It seems like they thrive on tormenting each other, and I end up playing the role of referee. Any suggestions for how we can prevent another summer of conflict and get things off on a better start?

Summer vacation can bring out the best and worst of family life. On the one hand, the increased time can allow for more positive interaction and enjoyable activities with our children. But this added time can also bring to the surface the sibling dynamics that may not get as frequently activated during the school year. Conflict between siblings may begin with territorial skirmishes, put downs, negative comparisons, deliberate provocations, or a host of other catalysts. Yet, many times the conflict is simply due to the abundance of unstructured time and the presence of energetic, stimulus-seeking children on a mission to have fun, even if it's at the expense of their brothers or sisters.

Parents can easily lose their patience with the stress produced by summertime conflict. Angry outbursts, constant threats of punishment, and guilty feelings about our handling of situations can lead us to yearn for the school year.

Before ending up in that frame of mind consider some parent coaching advice:

Recognize the importance of imposing structure where none exists. Many children have trouble making decisions when faced with the degree of freedom during the summer. After several months of being told what to do they may need our help in determining which "play-path" they should take, and how to stick to it once they begin. Parents can structure children's decisions by limiting available choices and preparing them for the obstacles that may get in the way of sustained interest. Rather than accept their description of a choice as "boring" or "too hard," parents can get them started on a path and provide periodic involvement to help them stick with it.

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Sometimes the best choice is a play-alone-path. Separating children is often used as a consequence for misbehavior between siblings. But it can also be a daily rule of family life. Not only does it provide a break from the intensity of full-time sibling encounters, but it also helps children place greater value in the time they spend together. Children who must regularly spend time by themselves are more watchful of their treatment of each other so that play-alone time doesn't get lengthened.

Preparation leads to prevention. Summertime further subjects children to the daily frustrations that parents usually manage by themselves during the school year, i.e., errands, grocery shopping, traffic conditions, assorted car trips that only serve adult purposes, etc. The frustrations of wanting a drink, waiting for something to be over, or being uncomfortable in a hot car can turn a five minute trip to Wawa into a sibling war.

Parents can prepare for these encounters by using positive distractions such as favorite music, family trivia games, or creative story-telling. Incentives for demonstrating "loving brother/sister behavior" can be offered. A stopwatch for recording the number of peaceful driving minutes can build teamwork and efforts to reach a "record-breaking" trip.

Use summertime experiences for social skill development. Another way to approach sibling conflict is to appeal to an individual child's wish to better handle "kid challenges."

If they have trouble with being too thin-skinned or in "taking the bait" when provoked, coach them about "keeping their thinking side in charge" with their brother or sister so that they have more practice when returning to school. Use role-play and rehearsal so that when they are confronted by the annoying behavior of their sibling they can let it roll right off of them.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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next: Preparing Your Child for Overnight Summer Camp

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2010, May 5). Siblings Fighting: A Summer of Conflict, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 15 from

Last Updated: July 31, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD