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Tips for Parents: ABCs of Sibling Conflict

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Authored by: Meg Glick, LCSW, MSEd

Having a sibling can create many wonderful natural opportunities for prosocial skill development, including building play skills, conflict resolution skills, and skills for effective communication. That said, conflict between siblings in families is normal. Across families, conflict may occur at varying levels of severity and frequency. These dynamics can be intensified when one or multiple siblings has special needs that require increased parental attention and/or accommodation. If conflict between siblings feels as though it is disrupting your family’s enjoyment of one another, exploring the ABCs and functions of behavior can help to move towards behavior change.

In this context, ABCs stands for Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences. Antecedents are variables (internal or external) that influence whether a behavior is more or less likely to occur. Behaviors are those observable actions from your child (positive or negative) that you may want to see increase or decrease. Consequences can be positive or negative and are the responses or results that follow a behavior, thereby influencing how likely that behavior is to occur again in the future. By understanding the ABCs involved in any given behavior, you will be better able to work towards positive change.


  1. The first step towards behavior change is to identify the target behavior. Be very specific about the behavior you are trying to shape or change. Be able to frame this behavior in the positive. Instead of saying ‘I want my kids to stop fighting,’ you can ask yourself ‘What do I want to see more of?’ The answer might be kind language towards each other, keeping their hands and feet to themselves, sharing toys or materials nicely, waiting patiently for a turn or for parental attention, or getting help from a parent before solving a problem physically. All of these are examples of positively worded target behaviors.
  2. Next, identify the possible function of the behavior. Try to understand what purpose the behavior is serving and what your child might be getting from it. This might be attention or access to a tangible (like a toy), for example. When a behavior is working to meet its intended function, it tends to continue.
  3. Once you understand the behavior and its possible function, you can begin to try antecedent strategies. These are typically changes in the environment or the interactions between family members that happen before a behavior occurs and get at the root function. Think about meeting the need, so that your child doesn’t have to try to get it met in maladaptive ways. Examples of antecedent strategies include consistent 1-on-1 time with each child, turn taking charts/schedules/timers, and regular previewing of plans and expectations.
  4. Next, you can try using your positive attention strategically to reinforce prosocial behavior. Try reducing attention to problem behaviors, and, instead, try catching your child engaging in the positively stated target behavior and comment on that (i.e. ‘I love the way you are speaking so kindly to your little sister.’).
  5. Lastly, consider adding in House Rules for the whole family to establish clear guidelines on behavior that is dangerous or destructive (i.e. hitting). Introduce these at a calm, neutral time when the problem behavior is not actively occurring. Link it to a clear, appropriate, short-term consequence.
  6. If sibling conflict is frequently escalating to aggression or destruction, feels unsafe and unmanageable, or is otherwise regularly impairing your family’s functioning, seek out outside help. Your pediatrician or child’s school should be able to direct you towards evidence-based providers who can provide support.



Speaker Bio:
Meg Glick, LCSW, MSEd is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker located in Brooklyn, NY who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD, disruptive behavior disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety disorders, and other challenges impacting the emotional and behavioral health of children and their families. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (BA), Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work (MSW), and Bank Street College of Education (MSEd). Meg is an internationally certified Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) therapist, the gold-standard evidence-based intervention for children ages 2-7 years with oppositional and defiant behaviors. She also has expertise in the treatment of selective mutism. Meg provides a range of evidence-based behavioral interventions for children and families as well as school-based consultation and training to teachers to enhance individualized and classroom-wide behavior management and social-emotional learning strategies. Prior to opening her own private practice, Meg was a clinician at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit


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