Welcome to our new feature: Ask the Specialist ! As we receive questions, we’ ll be posting answers from our team of expert therapists. If you have any questions about parenting, education, learning, school, or any other related topic, leave us a comment and we’ ll make sure to answer it in upcoming posts!


To start us off:

I’m concerned about intense fights between my children. What can I do?

When we asked our specialists, we received two great responses from our Psych Team.


Understanding the Sibling Relationship: Tips for Preventing Fighting Among Your Children.

By Anne Blokhuis Muurlink, Educational Psychologist

The extent to which siblings influence each other must not be underestimated; they spend a lot of time together, they share experiences, they observe each other and their relationship is often unemotional one. Their conversations are about playful and humorous situations, they tease each other and make jokes together, exhibiting patterns that are notes common in the parent-child relationship.

Even though siblings can be best friends, they also want to define who they areas individuals. They want to show that they are separate from their siblings and they may feel they are getting unequal amounts of their parents’ attention, discipline, and responsiveness. This can result in sibling rivalry. There are many other factors that contribute to sibling rivalry, such as birth order, gender of the children, temper, personality, problem solving skills, stressful events in the family etc. Research shows that sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted.

What can parents to do prevent fights between their children?

  • Plan fun family activities together. Think of activities where your children need to work as a team to accomplish a certain goal.
  • Give your children time to be together and play on their own.
  • Plan ‘alone time’ with each child so your child doesn’t feel the need to fight for your attention.
  • Don’t compare your children to each other. Approach them as individual and enjoy their unique talents and successes.
  • Parents often believe the older child should be the role model. While this is fine to a certain extent because they are older, the focus should be on other talents as well.
  • Teach children positive ways to ask for attention.
  • Model problem solving skills – solve issues with your children so they can learn how to do it on their own.
  • A reward system can be used when fights are frequent and have a negative impact on your family life. Ideally rewards should only be given when your children work together as a team (that means one reward system for all your children, so they have to earn the rewards together). Involve your child in the process of creating this system, thinking of rewards they both like, which behaviors will be rewarded etc.
  • Catch your children being good, and try to ignore squabbles.
  • If your children are physically violent with each other, and one child is always the victim, is frightened of the brother/sister, and doesn’t fight back, you might be dealing with sibling abuse. In this case it is recommended to find professional help.
  • Teach your children that fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same, it means each person gets what they need. Older and younger children may have different privileges due to their age, but if children understand that this is because one child is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair. Keep explaining your choices to your child.

Although sibling rivalry can be reduced it is unlikely to be entirely eliminated. Sibling rivalry may also be a healthy indication that your children are assertive enough to express their differences with other siblings.


Schaffer, R. H. (20035), Social Development. Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing.

Anne Blokhuis Muurlink

Anne Blokhuis Muurlink, M.Sc

Educational Psychologist

Anne has been working in Shanghai as an Educational Psychologist since 2009. and enjoys helping children improve the basic skills required for successful learning. She is passionate about children’s development, and believes a holistic approach is essential to help children reach their full potential.


When Should You Seek Professional Help?

By Julieta Barril, Psychologist

Even though we often hear that sibling rivalry is a common occurrence between brothers and sisters, it can be frustrating and upsetting to watch and hear your children fight with each other. You might not understand what the problem is, and it’s hard to know what to do: should you stop the fighting? Should you even get involved at all?

Why do siblings fight?

There is no one thing that would trigger a fight. Every case is unique and singular, but there are some factors that can usually play a role in sibling rivalry, such as different evolving needs, age, jealousy, competition, individual temperaments, personalities, family dynamics and positions, and so forth. Professionals specialized in these issues can help you to find the best way on how to intervene with the fights and how to support your children to get along.

How do I know when to look for professional help?

Every family and its dynamics are different and unique. If you feel that the fights are disrupting daily functioning or affecting family members physically, emotionally or psychologically, it would be good to consult with a professional.

However, even if you don’t feel the fighting is severe, but you have questions about your children and their fights, talking with a professional might be very useful. They will be able to answer your questions and can help you to determine whether your family would benefit from professional intervention.

Julieta Barril

Julieta Barril, M.A.


Julieta joined The Essential Learning Group in 2012, and specializes in using play-based therapies with children. She is also multilingual, offering services in three languages: Spanish, English, and French.