Last week Parenting Playbook looked at the distinction between sibling rivalry and bullying at home. This week, let’s look at some ideas to consider when siblings disagree.

When siblings are in the throes of a disagreement, it can be easy for parents to feel like either stepping in with a solution or stepping out of the fray entirely. Sibling conflict actually offers parents an opportunity to teach children how to solve problems constructively, and these teachable moments can occur without a parent’s stepping in or out.

One way to help children who are at odds is to provide encouragement and inspire confidence in their ability to figure out the situation. Let them know you are sure they can figure out a solution that can work for everyone. You might say, “It seems this isn’t working very well. Everyone is spending so much time fighting about whose turn it is to play the game that no one is playing. What can we do so everyone gets a chance to play?”

You can also teach conflict resolution skills by providing perspective to sibling conflicts. Sometimes it can be helpful for the parent to step back a bit. If you can stay calm, listen, offer some objective reflection, and add a question, the dynamic of the situation will shift. For example, you might say “It sounds like you want to play with the new basketball because it is yours, and your brother wants to play with it because he’s never had one. What are you two going to do about it? What are some options?”

Because sibling conflicts are so often emotionally laden, it is important to listen for the children’s underlying emotions. Listening to each child’s perspective and noticing his or her feelings are the key to finding the win-win solution. Should a win-win outcome not be possible, it is especially important to listen to how each sibling is feeling, so everyone will at least feel heard, even if every child cannot have his or her way.