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The Top 7 Sibling Squabbles

Don’t let them ruin your holidays.
The Top 7 Sibling Squabbles

Parents, if you have one child this Christmas, enjoy rocketing her toward the ceiling for that picturesque moment when she plants the angel atop your Christmas tree. And if you have more than one child, you may want to consider stuffing fluffy faux cotton snow into your ears right now because, come angel time, it will get ugly. Somehow the most idyllic moments we anticipate as parents have a way of devolving into chaos when our children behave . . . like children.

That’s why we asked moms like you what their children bicker about.

And while we acknowledge some of these may trigger post-traumatic stress for certain moms, we offer them in love so the next time you hear that familiar wail—“He’s looking at me!!!”—you’ll know you’re not alone.

You’re really not.

Most of the bickering moms reported fell into one of three categories: privilege, control and power. (If you didn’t catch it, these are fancy ways of saying pretty much the same thing.)


Nothing seems to aggravate our kids more than their siblings receiving some privilege to which they may or may not be entitled.

  • He’s using Dad’s Wii controller.
  • She got the orange cup yesterday.
  • He ate the last cookie.
  • I do more chores than she does.
  • He has less homework than I do.


Another tender spot for many of our children is control. Many go through the roof when their siblings find ways to exercise control over them.

  • Those aren’t the rules of the game!
  • He turned the channel when I was watching a show!
  • She touched my stuff!
  • He’s chewing too loud!

Because the car is one of those places where, by default, children have less control than in other areas of their lives, it becomes, for many, a veritable battleground.

  • You’re on my side of the back seat!
  • She won’t let me open the windows!
  • We always listen to his music!
  • She said she saw a slug bug, but she didn’t!

Likewise, mandatory bath time—about which kids don’t always have a choice—can fuel kids’ bickering.

  • I want my shower last!
  • I went first last time!
  • I flipped a coin and I won and now he won’t take a bath!


We also discovered our children are maddened when one exercises power over another.

Sometimes they wield social power.

  • He said he has more friends than me!
  • She’s not your friend, she’s my friend!

Sometimes they exercise dominance with mental power.

  • I’m going to put your blanket in the toilet.
  • She looked at me and smiled.

Sometimes they resort to old-fashioned physical violence. And grossness.

  • He hit me!
  • She licked me!

Our kids, who may not feel as if they have much power in the world, learn how to drive their siblings crazy with the little power that’s at their disposal.

Funny Ones

Really, if the decibel and shrillness of the squawking wasn’t so nerve-wracking, sibling-licking would be kind of funny. Having a sense of humor about our kids’ antics can help. Andrea and her husband think so. Andrea shares: “My kids argue about who gets the ‘bigger’ piece of whatever they have to split. We employ the ‘one kid splits, the other chooses’ method, and it’s pretty hilarious when they argue over who ends up with the ‘bigger’ piece.”

Marla, whose kids are masters at mind games, has also learned to see the humor in their incessant bickering. She shares: “For a while it was hard to get them to get coats on, get to the car, and get buckled up. So they came up with an idea that whoever did it first got an imaginary trophy. Then they would bicker about who won the non-existent trophy.” The “virtual” conflict doesn’t end there. One of Marla’s boys projects his animosity toward his brother onto stuffed animals, insisting, “Puffer says he doesn’t want to be with you today!”

Other accusations that also gave us a chuckle included, “He’s looking out my window!”, “My fake accent is better than your fake accent!”, and, “It’s my turn to choose what prayer we pray!”

Lord have mercy. (For the record, that’s the prayer all parents should be praying.)

There a few goodies we heard over and over again. These are the things we fought with our own siblings about and they’re the ones parents hear most often today.

Drum roll, please, for the Big Seven:

7. Seating Arrangements

At the dinner table, in a car, or on an airplane, kids get pretty territorial about where they sit.

  • He sat there last night!
  • I always have to sit in the middle!
  • She got to sit in the front seat last time!
  • I get to sit next to Mom tonight! (Now that one’s kind of sweet.)

6. The Other Kind of Portion Control

Whether it’s pepperoni pizza or pecan pie, parents can pretty much always expect to hear, “His piece is bigger than mine!” Often from every child present.

5. Taking Turns

You would think that loving justice would be a good quality. And while it is, it can be absolutely maddening in our children.

  • It’s my turn to choose a game!
  • It’s her turn to do the dishes!
  • He doesn’t get to swing on the new tree swing first!
  • It’s my turn to pick what we watch on TV!

(It almost makes a mama wish her children could just be satisfied with a little bit of injustice.)

4. Identification of the Initial Offender

“He/she started it!” Every kid announces this one like it’s a get-out-of-jail-free-card. And, to be fair, when two or more siblings are shouting it at once, parents can become so overwhelmed that, frustrated, they actually do give up on the investigation altogether.

3. Tracking Siblings’ Privileges

Kids love to keep track of their siblings’ privileges. The logic seems to be that if a sibling has been granted a privilege, the other is naturally due the same.

  • She’s had the Kindle longer than me so I get more minutes!
  • Since he got extra computer time I should get extra time!
  • She skipped her chores so I should get to skip my chores!

2. Offensive Acknowledgements

One of kids’ most favorite ways to torture one another requires neither physical violence nor verbal assault. In fact, all it takes is a glance.

  • She’s looking at me!
  • He smiled at me!
  • She looked at me weird!

1. Parental Attention and Affection

The biggest thing kids squabble over? You! If you don’t feel particularly flattered by the attention, take a deep breath and remember it’s only for a short season.

  • I want to tell Mom the story!
  • Dad said I could help!
  • He gets longer prayers!
  • Mom loves me more than you!
  • Mom loves you more than me!

Years ago a friend had a paper taped to her refrigerator that read, “When my children act childish, it’s my job to act adultish.” Acting “adultish” means that, on our best days, we’re not undone by our children’s bickering. And on our worst days? Maybe the best we can do is to take a deep breath and remember we’re not alone.

If you’ve been harboring hopes for a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but it’s unfolding as something more akin to Chevy Chase’s Family Vacation, it just means your family is. . . normal.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck, award-winning writer and speaker, is a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Theological Seminary. A TCW regular contributor and columnist, Margot speaks regularly on discipleship, justice, and living love in the world God loves. Connect with Margot on Facebook, Twitter, or at MargotStarbuck.com.

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