Q&A Wednesday: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry in the Homeschool

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

If you homeschool more than one child, as most of us do, then sibling rivalry is a daily part of your homeschooling reality.

I’ve been in the thick of this recently, since my three children have only 22 months separating them in age.

That’s why I recently asked the following question on my Facebook page:

Of the 48 readers who responded, many of you also agreed that you were surprised at how much time sibling squabbles and other discipline issues take in your homeschool day.

It’s tempting to think that character training gets in our way when we’re trying to “do school,” but really character growth is a huge part of our curriculum.

Which leads to our question for the day:

How do you deal with sibling rivalry issues that arise within your homeschool? Any advice to share with those of us in the thick of it now?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Education IS character growth! Learning takes discipline and love– character traits. We, homeschooling moms, need to stop fretting over the content we are teaching our children and focus on loving discipleship which ALWAYS encourages learning. Through word studies and Bible studies the Holy Spirit convicted me to ditch all my curriculum and go to him for my children’s needs. They were schooled to death. Once I let go and started enjoying and mentoring my children while focusing on MY OWN EDUCATIONAL needs, my children began voraciously studying subjects that interested them. This eventually led to self initiated writing. Math became fun to them as they were my “household finance scribes.” Daily they would enter receipts of our spending, tally them, make budgets of wants and needs… Then my 13year old asked if she could have a math book so she could learn more about fractions… It has snowballed from there. We have a productive, joy- filled learning home centered around our relationship with Christ and each other and our friends.
    This all began by a huge nudge from the Holy Spirit to let go… Just me sitting at our table doing the studies I have always wanted to do but could not because I was too busy “teaching” my children. My children watching, discussing, playing; then after a few days, they wanted to do their own studies based on the fun stuff they had been doing while I was studying, such as insects and rocks. It hasn’t stopped yet and the interests keep growing and getting deeper!!!

  2. Sharyn, that’s really interesting. What did you study and how? Were you working on reading-type things or more hands on things, where your kids could see you “play”?

  3. Well, since you asked….this is exactly the topic I posted on today! Here’s the link -http://girlstogrow.blogspot.com/2011/09/five-cs-for-creating-caring-sibling.html
    Tracey’s latest post: Five "C’s" for Creating Caring Sibling Relationships

  4. I have them work together on a project whether learning-wise or cleaning each other’s rooms or doing yard work or whatever. I talk about the “one another” verses and we pray and then I ask them to work on their relationship by learning to work and serve together.
    Aimee’s latest post: The Home Stretch

  5. Ooooh, I’m not even home-schooling both of them yet (one is 3), but I’ve been concerned about this. My two oldest are 5 and 3 1/2, born 20 months apart. They are best of friends and rarely fight, really it is remarkable how well they do together. My concern comes starts with academics. My 3 year old is showing a lot of signs that learning is going to come very easy to her. She is starting to read, understands mathematical quantities, and remembers everything that is told to her. My 5 year old is no slouch herself, but is doing work that is average for her age. If they continue on the same paths, which could change ofcourse they are very young, but if it does continue the youngest will outpace the older one shortly. My oldest is becoming aware of the situation and reacting poorly. How do I handle that? How can I keep the oldest feeling like she is bright, which she definitely is, in the face of her baby sister passing her in many areas? Has any one had any experience in this?

    • Hello :: i am experiencing the same here. My youngest is 3 years and 3 month younger than her sister but she catching up in size and in every thing she can come up with. My older one is not pleased about it, I keep reminding her that first we all different and that nothing will remain as it is now. And also we use the 8 different way of intelligence know as Multiple intelligence. Here is a link, i hope it will help you. We will soon make a banner of those multiple intelligence in our “class room” and i will post about it soon on my blog.

      Lila’s latest post: Say "Cheese"

    • So interesting, isn’t it?? My girls are 17 months apart we face the same situation. My youngest remembers and “gets” concepts right away and my eldest has a much more social, experiential learning style. No advice . . . also curious to see if anyone else has any. ; )
      Angie’s latest post: The Little House mania continues . . .

  6. All these ideas are very helpful. One thing that I think helps my family is that we take a 1-2hr “rest/quiet time” almost every afternoon. Each kid is in a separate room reading, drawing, or playing quietly. I think this time apart helps to keep the sibling rivalry down a bit. I have 3 close in age (dd6, ds6, ds8). Not to mention, it helps me to keep my sanity!

  7. Great question. My kids aren’t even kindergarten age, and they already fight too much!
    Crafty Mama’s latest post: Nutri-Plate: See How Much Your Kids Should Eat

  8. We homeschool our five children ages, 13, 12, 10, 8 and 6. They seem to have more disagreements when they’ve been involved with too much “screen time,” whether it be tv, video games,playing on mom’s iphone or movies. Our family verse is Phil. 2:2-4 “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
    We’ve all memorized it together. Many times I need to say, “Are you ‘Esteeming others above yourself’ right now?” Anytime I can squeeze in the truth of God’s word to teach, I try to….even if it means me confessing that I did not esteem the driver in front of me above myself. :o)
    I remind myself that it is the power of His word, not mine, that changes hearts. I love your website. I’ll be back. :o)

  9. Love this feedback! Like Becky, I notice an increase in bickering with an increase in screen time. I think it helps to have some quiet, alone time every day in addition to limiting the screen time. We’re home all day, most days and, well, who doesn’t get sick of other people sometimes?? Especially those who are totally getting the bigger piece of cake!! I try to realize that 1) sibling rivalry is normal and 2) it’s not Christ-like. And while I’m comforted with the normalcy of it, I also realize that it’s my duty as a parent to teach them WWJD? I’m sure that some of the times, they appear to comply but are inwardly rebelling against these ‘totally unfair’ lectures. But eventually, they’ll get it. The seed has been planted. I remember my mother telling us that we don’t hate one another and that one day my sister would be my best friend. I remember thinking, “NO WAY! I can’t STAND her!” Fast forward 35 years and my sis is someone I talk to daily, the person I most frequently bounce ideas off of even with 300 miles separating us. You have to just keep saying the same things over and over and over and over. And tell the big sis discreetly when the little sis is looking up to her, and point out to the little sis when her big sis is being super thoughtful or helpful. Praise, praise, praise the positive! And know that while no child is perfect, as homeschoolers we can appreciate these constant opportunities to shape and influence our children to a greater extent than most other parents.

  10. There’s a couple things that have worked for us. Mine are 5, 8 and 11. Most of their fighting has been about wanting to have some free/alone time with mom and playing computer/watching tv. Going someplace with each of them separately isn’t really an option so I needed to come up with something different to give them that one-on-one time they all were needing. So I instituted the ‘mommy tank’ day. (My oldest always claimed her time with mom had been low since the younger two were born and that explains the phrase.) So they each get one 1/2 hour time slot in the afternoon to do whatever they want with me (paper dolls, uno, playing store, , a special craft they need help with, looking through catalogs, etc.). Monday is for the youngest, Tuesday is for the middle daughter and Thursday is for my oldest. Wed and Friday we have other things going on in the afternoon so those days are already spoken for. It’s helped a lot to keep peace since they know they’ll have their ‘time’ each week.

    The other issue was always asking to play computer or watch Netflix. Like the others, I noticed more acting out/crankiness and actually more boredom after so much screen time so we limit computer/tv to after school on Thursday and Friday and anytime on Sat/Sun (but we’re usually gone much of those days with soccer/church stuff) and only 1 hour of total time a day. So if my oldest chooses to watch backyardigans with her younger sister, she only has 1/2 hour left of her own choosing. (They were previously trying to piggyback their time and get three hours of screen since they were in the room while someone else was watching something).

    Hope these suggestions help!

  11. Great question! I like the mommy tank idea. A lot of issues arise because kids don’t think they have enough parent attention.

    I wrote a web page all about this topic too. Basically everyone needs to respect each other and parents need to stop meanness in its tracks. I also use the stop rule. When someone says stop, the other person has to stop. This is a form of respect too. Here is the full post http://www.homeschool-how-to.com/homeschool-sibling-rivalry.html

    I figure if my children can learn to get along with each other after they spend 24 hours a day together, they should be able to learn to get along with just about anyone.
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Writing Programs

  12. I am SO glad you posted this!!! I am a new homeschooling mom to a 9, 6 and 3 yr olds. I am so happy to see that this is a problem to others as I thought it was just me!! And this is why I like to network!!! 🙂 Thank you thank you for real world articles!!

  13. Excellent post and discussion. Thank you everyone. I love the insight in all the comments and the perspective that training them in how they treat each other is just as important as any other studies, if not more important! Mine play great together probably 70% of the time (ds age 4 & dd age 2 & 1 more on the way) but that 30% can drive me crazy & right now I’m trying to figure when it’s best for me to ignore little things, not micromanage every interaction & let them figure it out. The perspective on how crucial this is & that it is not taking away from what really matters is priceless to me!

  14. I have two boys, 20 months apart, and for the most part they get along extremely well. I learned early on not to referee them too much – if they had a squabble, I told them to solve the problem and work it out. 9 times out of 10, they compromise. I also instituted Mom’s Favorite Child days. My oldest gets all the perks on MWF, the youngest on TThS – If it is their day, they go first in any activity, choose what we watch on TV, ride in their preferred seat in the car, get tucked in first at night, etc. THEY keep it going – not me – I can’t remember what day it is most days 🙂

    I have also noticed, as others have pointed out, that they argue more on days we have a lot of screen time. When we keep TV and video games to a minimum, they seem to find ample things to do together without squabbling.
    Diahn Ott’s latest post: A Vast Conspiracy

  15. Believe it or not, this post makes me nostalgic for the old days when my kids would fight! Well, not the actual fighting, but that period of our life!
    I had 3 who were about 24-26 months apart and we had a lot of squabbling. We did not homeschool from the beginning, started when they were 6,8 and 11, so I had some character training catching up to do! I always taught them it was a heart issue, and tried to deal with it from that standpoint. My kids LOVED for us to read books and series together and I used situations in the stories to teach ALL the time. Of course, my mind is blank right now to think of one! We always read good literature so there was lots of opportunity for examples!
    One day they will all be grown and will be friends!
    Successful Woman’s Resource Center’s latest post: 10 Things To Do Before Starting Your Blog

  16. We’ve been dealing with this a lot lately. I am using these opportunities to teach them kindness. When a squabble comes, I try to make sure the squabble does not end that way – with tensions between them. I try to review the situation with them and ask them how they could have done things differently. We talk about what they could have said instead and how the sibling felt because of the child’s improper actions. Sometimes we will re-enact the situation, and I also encourage apologies!!! Children need to be TRAINED how to do things properly, so it is good to discuss and encourage the proper behavior and words.
    Lisa’s latest post: A Bonding Experience

  17. I am loving this discussion! Mine are 7/5/3/1 + 1 on the way. We do most all the things listed above – limit screen time, teach to the heart of the matter, go over the “one another” verses (actually Phil 2:3 is my son’s memory verse this week – boy, have we had lots of teachable moments!), teach conflict resolution & to do it on their own, praise good behavior in front of all, etc. You ladies are awesome!!

    With permission, I’d like to reference a few helpful resources for those who are just beginning to walk this path. I did not grow up in a Christian home, so I had to learn on the fly and these have been incredibly helpful:
    * Making Brothers & Sisters Best Friends by the Mally’s
    * Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
    * Anything from Doorposts.com <-Incredible character training material that we use daily!
    * "Seeds of…" CD series of verses put to incredible songs! Easy to remember and sing back in times of conflict. Seeds of Faith, Seeds of Courage, etc.
    * "Hide 'em in Your Heart" CD's by Steve Green – again, scripture put to song
    * Large Family Logistics by Kim Brenneman <- More for mamas than the kids
    * lampquill.com <- FREE weekly Bible lesson that is one story for all ages (various activites depending on the age of course) each week.

    Obviously I'm in agreement that character training superceeds "education" because I've found, much like the others, when they have solid character, rooted in faith, they have the freedom and natural desire to learn.

    Many blessings to all of you whom we travel on this path with!

  18. My girls are 3 1/2 twins. For the most part they get along really well. I often have them work together to complete a task (like gathering all the towel laundry on laundry day, cleaning up the playroom, or sorting the socks). By working together they have learned how to share, take turns, and communicate well with one another. When they do have an argument, I stay out of it. I listen closely, but try to do it from the other room. They need to struggle a little to learn how to respond to each other and how to solve a conflict. By staying out of it, I give them the chance to navigate on their own rather than teach them to rely on me to do the navigation. When it gets really heated (or the fists start flying) I intervene and walk them through it. This becomes our teaching moments where I give them strategies for calming themselves down and talking things out. I now will hear and see them using these strategies and my intervention is being needed less and less. 🙂

  19. It is strange that the more they play with kids in the neighborhood, the more my children fight when it is just them.

    We insituted the “Singing Chairs.” When they are fighting for longer than a moment, I send them to the singing chairs where they have to stay until they are calm enough to sing a “lovey” type song to each other and give each other a hug or come downstairs holding hands.

    They chose to sing the “I love you, you love me…” Barney song from the beginning and it stuck.

    When they are out of the singing chairs, we address what happened to cause the fighting.

    I LOVE IT!

    It never takes them longer than a few minutes to let go of the grudge and they are fast friends again.
    Karina Palmer’s latest post: Impatience

  20. MissMommy says:

    I would appreciate any input/advice/resources as to how to deal with a teen with “attitude/obedience issues”.

    You can only take away so many privileges and the problem is the younger ones pick up and imitate that attitude very quickly.

    • I don’t have children of teen years so I don’t know how helpful this will be, but in my pre-mommy days, I taught at a highschool bording school for children with learning difficulties. “Attitude/obedience issues” were more common than not. The only way I found to deal with it was to be painfully consistent and have rules/consequences spelled out ahead of time. The children started there with few rights and priviledges (everyone started with a 6am wake-up, supervised study times, and a 10pm bedtime). Gradually as they earned it (through politeness, good grades, etc), they got more choices. That way we weren’t taking anything away, but granting it as they proved they were ready. Ofcourse, poor choices could move them down the ladder, but by then, they generally knew they deserved it. I’m not sure how you could use this with your own teen, but perhaps if he/she has become very sassy, going back to no rights and earning them back may be necessary. Start out treating her like one of the younger children with a list of rights that will be reestablished when she proves she’s ready. I wish you luck!

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