Squabbling siblings - AKA Sibling Mediation 101

Squabbling siblings - we've all been there

Brothers and sisters – can be best friends and worst enemies, all within the space of 5 minutes.  Throw a communication difficulty into the mix, and things can become more challenging and you have squabbling siblings.  Your child might not have the language to clearly explain what they want, or what has gone wrong when they have a disagreement.  Alternatively, the social skills of turn taking, sharing, negotiating and pretend play might be skills your child is still learning. Although these tips have been written with children with speech, language and communication difficulties in mind, you will see many of them draw on the parenting skills all Mums and Dads use!

Squabbling siblings mediation - Some basic principles


  • Agree your family rules, at a time when everyone is calm and listening. For younger children, use the most simple language you can with pictures to explain them (See picture above) .  Role playing together the behaviours you like to see, and praising this, will also help your child understand what’s expected.
  • For slightly older children, have clear rules about the kinds of problems they need to include an adult in (if someone is hurt, in danger, or the problem keeps happening), but also encourage them to try to sort out some of the simpler problems independently, or with you ‘refereeing’.
  • Teach and encourage turn taking and sharing in activities when you’re able to stay and join in with the game. Simple games such as Pop up Pirate are great for practising taking turns with an adult present, who can then gradually slip away when the children have got the hang of taking turns.
  • Work towards a joint reward. For example, children could win a marble to put in the jar every time they share a toy, or do a job around the house as soon as they’re asked, with a full jar of marbles leading to a family day out.  This can be a way of bringing competitive siblings together.

Squabbling siblings mediation - In the heat of the moment


  • If you have to intervene, listen to both/all children equally when they are telling you what happened. Give time for your child with a communication difficulty to explain what it is they want, or what has happened, so they don’t always get shouted over.   Drawing what they say has happened, or allowing them to draw this (with simple stick men as above) may help them explain and understand.
  • Modelling and role play – you acting like the child – may diffuse the situation, is good for showing how silly some squabbles are
  • Some children won’t be able to explain what has happened straight away. You might instead try distraction – with fun, silliness, a movement break (think bouncing on the trampoline for one and a race around the garden for the other) – might be needed until everyone has calmed down a bit
  • News reporter – a way of diffusing the tension, and explaining to your children what has happened. “Michael just stuck his tongue out at Selina, and that made her feel sad.  It looks like Michael stuck his tongue out because Selina snatched the pen off him.”  Hold your fake reporters microphone, and put on a silly voice!

Squabbling siblings mediation - Advance planning

Give your children something fun to do during known ‘melt down’ times, such as when you’re making dinner. Joint challenges are another way of helping your children learn to play together.  With some of these activities, try to supervise to start off with, then gradually play a less active part: It’s not always going to be ‘happy families’, but siblings actually teach each other important social communication skills, and can end up being a friend and ally in the end!

  • Treasure hunt – hide an item for each of your children to find
  • You want them to practise doing as many bounces of a ball/goes round with a hula hoop, they can count for each other, then come and tell you how they’ve done.
  • Can they make up a silly song with some musical instruments?
  • Can they make up a play with a small selection of toys, then perform it to you later?
  • Can they make a tower of bricks or Lego taller than a certain piece of furniture?
  • Two against one (or adults against children) – get your children to work together and ‘gang up’ on you! It could be a pillow fight, a relay race around the garden... Let them win in the end, but put up a good fight so they feel a sense of joint achievement.

Try out our free 10 part Parents programme for building social communication skills.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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