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3 Steps that Transform Sibling Conflict into Sibling Camaraderie

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My two kids, now ages 3 and 8, seem to have lots of minor conflicts. They argue in the backseat of the car because one of them wants "quiet time" while the other wants to sing or tell me about their day. They argue about the seating arrangement for dinner (who gets the special wooden chair, who gets to sit next to which parent). They argue about one being in the other's physical space ("Stop touching me!") and over toys and markers ("I was using that first!")

Over the years, I have handled these disputes using a combination of different strategies, including "letting them work it out", "teaching them effective communication skills (ha!)", "separating them", "giving each of them empathy," "mediating," "refereeing", "problem-solving" and "punishing."

None of these have been as effective, efficient, and satisfying to me (or to them!) as the method described below, which I have freely adopted from Dominic Barter's Restorative Circles model (and lovingly named "micro-circles").

What I love about the micro-circle method is that:

(a) it is fast and immediate (usually 6-10 minutes)

(b) it does not require me to be "centered", patient, understanding, creative, impartial, fair, or empathic (in that moment)

(c) it is incredibly empowering for the kids (it takes me out of the judge and jury role, allowing the kids to hear each other and create their own solutions, which have been surprisingly quirky, brilliant, and seemingly satisfying to them)

(d) it seems to restore harmony between the kids rather than leaving one or more of them feeling resentful or revengeful

One final caveat is that I have NOT found the method to be effective when the main issue at hand is that one or more parties needs a snack or nap - or the whole lot of them needs a major change of activities (from indoor quiet time to running outside).



Take a deep calming breath and interrupt the dispute as early as possible in its cycle, if you believe it is escalating. Create a physical or emotional space between them, if needed.


For this phase, you have the children take turns sharing something they want the other child to know while the other child REFLECTS their understanding of the message.

Your tools for this phase are simply:

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Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D. is a student and practitioner of Non Violent Communication (NVC) and Restorative Circles (RC).

She is currently exploring restorative and non-violent approaches to conflict and ways to meaningfully share power in (more...)

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