Do you like to fight with your siblings

Violence among siblings in everyday family life

No, it is not an extraordinary phenomenon that I am writing about. However, it is difficult to look at violence between siblings. Anyone who engages in my text has taken off their rose-colored glasses, given up the desire to have a whole family and accepts that dark corners will be tidied up. Then a sober and loving look allows the ambivalence of the forces at work in a family. This readiness has a very relieving and liberating effect on the family system.

Violence among siblings - old hat

I still remember the religion lesson when the murderous story of Cain and Abel was told. Torn between fratricide and dead victim, I didn't know who to show solidarity with. The fatherly God refuses his respect for one brother and does not look sympathetically at his offering. To this day I have struggled with this jealous God who prefers the gift of one sibling and thereby deeply shames the other. Not to be seen, that hurts and hurts, because one is suddenly experienced as worthless and embarrassed. Feelings of jealousy, discord and envy increase the inner potential of aggression until it is no longer bearable. In the end the violence against the brotherly rival erupts.

The Bible continues bloodthirstily. In the story of Joseph and his brothers there is actually a father who prefers one of his many sons and makes it papa's favorite. This Joseph, son of the father's favorite wife, who died early, is growing into his role as a preferred child who feels superior to the older brothers and at the same time brings their hatred and jealousy to a boil. In this way he becomes a brother for her who is no longer bearable because his presence means an unbearable humiliation and shame. Papa's darling should feel firsthand what he did to his brothers! They throw him into a dry well shaft and want to leave him to die there. But since these siblings are not to be lumped together either, the resistance of a brother comes in, with whom a last bit of family solidarity has been preserved, and Josef is sold as a slave to a passing caravan. The violent brothers play an ambiguous game towards their father. Joseph's coat soaked in blood leads him to believe that his beloved son is dead.

Between love and hate - the range of sibling relationships

Nobody can choose their brother or sister. A boy or girl does not become a sibling by his or her own decision, but because another child is born in the family. The passive form indicates that moments of suffering can also be associated with it, after all, the ranking of the sibling row changes, usually also the number of the parents' usual caresses. Dislikes, rejections, enmity and rivalries are part of daily bread as soon as more than one child grows up with mother and father. “Day after day I have to sit across from that idiot face at meals. Sometimes I could hit it with my fist. I just can't stand him, that idiot brother! " The original tone of a 13-year-old towards his brother, who is one year younger than him, is really good at starting the process of disillusionment with regard to sibling relationships.

Of course there is also the opposite. An 11-year-old who adores his little sister, picks her up almost every day from daycare and is obviously enchanted by the charm of the little girl, for whose favor he is downright vying, says: “Before she was born, it was dead boring with us. But now there is always something to laugh about! "

There are great contrasts in the quality of sibling relationships; Intermediate stages can hardly be made out. Obviously, brothers and sisters commute between hot and cold, but only rarely are they indifferent to each other. So it is not surprising that one girl said: “I am glad that I have my brother, even if on some days I could turn his neck with the greatest pleasure! He can be so terribly mean and beastly. But I just like him. "

Siblings form emotionally meaningful relationships with one another and can endure the tension between love and hate. There is hardly any neutrality. This explains the high susceptibility to conflict and disputes in their coexistence. Obviously, they keep creating occasions to free themselves from their tensions. The forms of expression of sibling disputes are very diverse. Day after day they invent new variants of the same game over and over again: wiping out a brother or sister, annoying them, taking something away, putting lies in the family, reducing the value of the person, playing a bad prank, hiding the cell phone, the girlfriend relax ... Children and adults differ from each other in such everyday events. While the parents are quick to get annoyed and react annoyed to the turmoil of the children, the tolerance of the siblings involved seems to be greater. A 14-year-old says soberly: “If my sister has done some real shit in my room again, then I'll stay cool, save it, and if I'm really bad myself, then she'll get it back , I feel great afterwards. That's the way it is with siblings. My mother is totally freaking out. "

No matter how annoying it may be for adults, the simple fact is that aggression among siblings has a calming effect on children. Since it usually takes place within the protected space of the apartment, the opponents are known and predictable, their mistakes and weaknesses can be assessed, a child gains a feeling that it is alive in this way. Pushing, pinching, scratching and biting, pronouncing insults, inflicting minor injuries - children can live with that very well. A 9-year-old says: “So sometimes I get so angry at my brother that I hit him. The other day even my nose was bleeding, I was terribly shocked, I was so sorry, and I thought it was good that my brother sat next to me at dinner anyway. "

This is what everyday life among siblings can look like on some days. Beating your nose bloody in the morning and lying in bed together in the room in the evening, saying that you are sorry and to experience the physical closeness to your brother or sister as something beautiful and familiar again.

Fighting is fun

If you watch two children wrestling with each other on the floor, you will be amazed at the strength they both muster; Their faces are bright red, sweat runs from their foreheads, they use their hands, feet, body, teeth and tongue, are doggedly wedged together and afterwards say: “I feel really great. If I'm a winner, even better. Fighting is fun! " Every fight makes it clear: I have strength, I've made it, I'm noticed, I'm no longer the small, insignificant dirt. Since children are concrete in their thinking, physical strength is at the top of their value system. Fights with winners and losers correspond to their view of the world, which is divided into good and bad, black and white. Fighting is fun and violence is fascinating.

The adult as a witness and judge evaluates the children's quarrels

Most of the time, the tolerance of arguing children is greater than that of adults. Why does that upset me so much? Some mothers and fathers ask themselves. You have made up your mind to remain calm and matter-of-fact, but you are sobered to discover that this is not possible. Parents are not in thick armor or run through the apartment with an elephant skin, but react to the emotions and violent affects that have been aroused by their children's quarrel, defend themselves against it because they have been torn from their own state of mind. feel how your adrenaline level rises, how anger rises. Without wanting to, they become infected by the children's arguments. Now they have to take a stand, judge the fight as just judges and at the same time are disappointed and annoyed, look for words of explanation, begin to evaluate the behavior of the children, and suddenly it is there, the word of violence. Startled by the thought of having violent children, fear fantasies haunt the apartment. If, by chance, on that day, there is talk of an increase in children's propensity for violence, then the parents and children are doing badly.

From family to family, the line of what is called violence is drawn differently. What belongs to the aggression common among children in one apartment is labeled violence in the other. Women react more sensitively to physical attacks among siblings than men and use the word violence in conversations with children to point out the dangerousness of their actions. One can also speak of the fear associated with the destructive energy of violence suddenly breaking out of a person.

Children need many practice areas in order to learn how to assert their interests against the resistance of others. At some point they learn that great satisfaction arises from the feeling of power and increased importance as soon as the opponent lies helpless on the ground and whimpers for mercy. If, in such a moment of victory, a child does not feel any inhibition to kick and torment the opponent, then he has clearly exceeded the limits of usual aggression and is in the realm of physical violence, in which deliberate harm, injury or annihilation of the opponent is taken into account.

Experiences of violence are characterized by force and overwhelming energies that are difficult to counter. Violence seeks to make people small, is ruthless, relentless, and aims at intimidation through pressure. Those who suffer violence feel humiliated and their basic trust in themselves and the environment is massively disrupted. A child who has experienced violence is confronted with an abundance of intolerable emotions. In many cases, children wait for the hour of vengeance - as a technique of survival and as a protection from their own impotence and humiliation - in order to eradicate the injustice and shame they have suffered.

A sibling becomes an ally of a parent

When I look at the system of a family with children from the outside, I am always fascinated by the theater plans that are valid there. On some days everyone plays cheerfully and serenely in the comedy nobility, on other days bizarre and cabaret-ready scenes are played, which, however, can no longer be felt the next day because it suddenly becomes dramatic. Parents and siblings fight for survival with visible and invisible bandages, are looking for allies to strengthen their own position, need scapegoats to relieve themselves, are all convinced of the correctness of their behavior and at the same time suspect that things cannot go on like this after all . Woe to anyone who comes from outside as a visitor. Before he knows it, he will be captured and supposed to take sides. But only through a neutral attitude can he bring new impulses into the family structure; everyone can benefit, as the following example shows:

The almost 7-year-old Nadine has been attending the same school as her 12-year-old brother for six months. It was already evident in advance that the boy did not like the prospect of having a member of his family at his school. Conflicts and quarrels between the two siblings get out of hand at home, the girl complains to her mother about the threats with which her older brother intimidates her again and again. One day after school he is waiting for his younger sister, hidden behind a garden wall. When she is close enough, he pounces on her, beats her so badly that a neighbor comes out of the apartment, frightened. The girl lies on the floor crying, holds her hands protectively in front of her head, but her brother continues to trample her. The neighbor steps in, brings the girl home and has the courage to speak to the parents.

In this event, the neighbor plays the important role of the person not directly affected. It is not integrated into the family system and in this way prevents the incident from being downplayed, which is often the case in many families as a technique for dealing with violent conflicts. Then it says: “I'm not getting involved! He didn't mean it that way! And besides, children have to take care of their own affairs! Sponge about it, let's not talk about it anymore! "

What is happening is not taken seriously. Since many adults pay homage to a false ideal of upbringing, which leads them to believe that children are of age and have to regulate their affairs independently, they forget that children first have to acquire these skills and that as adults they have an important accompanying function on these arduous paths. Those who cowardly steal from responsibility leave their children in the lurch because they have no chance of learning to control the violent forces in contact with an adult. It remains alone and runs nowhere.

The neighbor does not shy away from the conflict situation, nor does she deliver the crying child under the front door like a postal package, but informs the mother about what she has seen. In the best case, the surprised mother overcomes a rising feeling of embarrassment and exposure, does not say, "This is private, this is our business, it is none of her business," but uses the opportunity to talk. It quickly shows what's going on: Nadine is disappointed that her brother doesn't even notice her at school. She had imagined it would be so nice to have a big helping brother by her side. Disappointed by this rejection, she begins to badger her brother at home. During the long break, she sneaks to the smoking area and sneaks up on his crimes at home. For the boy, this narrows the originally family-free school space.

The girl is proud of the new role of being the mother's extended control body, enjoys the new special position with the mother, sometimes provides false information, at the same time ignores the warnings and threats of the brother and enjoys the quarrels between mother and son at home . From this she draws the conclusion that she is mom's companion and darling. Her brother has fallen into the basement in favor of his mother, especially since she lives in the permanent fear that now that he is going through puberty, he would inevitably get off the rails. When he overpowers his sister on the street, he acts in this spirit.

If parents ally themselves with a child in order to gain insight into the intimacy of the children's world, then it can end badly because assaults and border violations take place, which the children resent but which they usually cannot defend themselves against directly. Children need their subsystems because they live in different roles in different places: in the classroom, in kindergarten, on the soccer field, in piano lesson, on the street ... The different facets of their person unfold in their different children's and youth worlds. In doing so, they experience the parents as intruders.

Therefore, children who grow up with siblings in the family also need space for activities without the familiar family members. One girl says drastically, “I think it's good to grow up with brothers and sisters. But there are days when I can't smell any of them. If I didn't have my clique, I think I'd go crazy. "

The marital war takes place on the street

When there is a crisis in the relationship between mother and father, conflicts, arguments and arguments determine everyday life, when the fear of the parents' fight against each other lies over the children, then siblings get into trouble because the desire for solidarity and loyalty almost tears them apart . Torn back and forth between mom and dad, coalitions are formed to stabilize themselves against the massively rising fear of abandonment. The fraternal alliances that have been reliably assessable up to now are changing.

When the bridge that guarantees love for both parents is no longer accessible, some of the siblings join together in the party I am for mom, the others in the party I am for dad. Confronted with deep fear of abandonment, grief, anger and powerlessness, the children of both camps experience that they cannot direct their violent feelings against the actual perpetrators. You're trapped looking for a replacement. What could be more obvious than directing the concentrated load of affects of pain and disappointment against brother or sister?

Then on the battlefield of the children's league the fights begin against the brother or sister, who takes the position of dad or mom in marital disputes. It is not uncommon for violent tensions to discharge in the form of violent clashes on the street, in the playground, in the schoolyard, at the bus stop. The unloading anger rages within the sibling relationships. Only in this way can it express itself at all. A girl says: “When our parents started arguing, my mom was often drunk, I was very angry with my brother because he always said mom is right, dad is right if she wants to throw him out . I couldn't hear this anymore because I wanted them to stay together. And there I once hit him green and blue in front of the supermarket. Afterwards I felt really sorry for him. It just came over me. "

See what's going on

Dealing with conflicts in the family lays the foundation for children's skills in dealing with their aggressive forces. Children sensitively sense whether their parents avoid conflicts like the plague, whether they want to inhibit them in advance and do everything possible to prevent them from breaking out because aggressively colored statements put them in distress. If parents, however, want to bring out the moral club peace, peace, with the slightest differences between their children, to put out the fire between the siblings at war, then an obsessive peaceableness arises that promotes rather than inhibits the onset of violence among siblings.

If you want to do it better, watch your children's behavior in order to learn to read. It quickly becomes clear how often it is the little scuffles, jostling, teasing and fights that multiply over a few days and cause an aggressively charged mood that usually infects the rest of the family. If you want it different, you can sit down with the sibling association on the floor or at the table and pass out the slogan that now everyone can empty their goiter so that the frustration they have suffered can be reduced. Even if it is chaotic at first, the children shoot verbal attacks with the cannons, it quickly becomes apparent how the front lines run, how the small animosities escalate, such as the one who scooped the most spaghetti from the others Is viewed with disapproval and how the child who had a bad mark in the dictation feels laughed at by the nerd that one euro has been stolen from the drawer again, that the mess in the bathroom only has to be tidied up by the girls, it's very nice It was nasty to have been pushed off the slide by my sister in the playground.

Siblings have phenomenally good memories!

When feelings of revenge, envy and resentment are awakened, and open enmities show up, it must not be forgotten that loyalty also develops among siblings - especially when children experience their parents as caring, understanding and authentic adults. It is helpful for siblings when they find out that mother or father do not judge them as bad and bad children if there is again a violent argument in the children's room. It is a delusion to think that arguing is always fun for the children. Often they are frightened by the force of their aggression and resolve to be more cautious.

Some families cultivate the virtue of open discussion. Without make-up it is told how painful it is to be excluded or laughed at by your siblings, to be pushed down the stairs or to be hit. The ever caring sister can finally confess how often she is afraid that her older siblings will strike again.

Such conversations help to clarify the structures of sibling relationships and the position of the mother and father. This strengthens the self-confidence of the children among one another, and gradually a feeling for the differences and similarities between the individual family members develops.

Allow unpleasant questions

Anyone who observes and questions the behavior of their children cannot avoid holding up a mirror and asking: “Hand on heart, how do you deal with the arguments? Isn't it sometimes okay with you when one child receives a lesson from the other? And what do you do with your anger? Which child are your dislikes against at the moment? Who would you like to clap against the wall sometimes? Aren’t you often just a calm adult on the outside, who is boiling and boiling but not allowed to overflow?

A mother says: “I found myself really enjoying it when my older daughter was verbally attacked by the little one. At some point, however, I noticed that it was like it used to be at home. I never beat my big sister. But today the small one manages to kick the buttocks of the big one because of her arrogance. " This mother identifies herself with one of the quarreling children and in this way contributes to reinforcement, because her unspoken tolerance always fuels the sisters' struggle.

Violence against sick or disabled siblings

Children who grow up with chronically ill or otherwise handicapped siblings learn from an early age to show consideration. “The first years of a problem child are usually the most difficult. Visits to the doctor, counseling sessions and therapies tear large holes in the family's time budget. The problem-free child apparently fits in without contradiction, but secretly looks jealously at the sibling who is allowed to spend so much time with the mother undivided. " (1) If the efforts and achievements of healthy children are not appreciated, they feel overlooked and forgotten, because all eyes are only on the handicapped sibling. What to do with the anger at the disabled brother?

In the swimming pool, a girl observes three children aping their disabled brother and caricaturing his movements. The boy feels the aggressive energy and begins to cry, looks to his sister for help. She goes away, is ashamed of him and doesn't want to have anything to do with him. An older woman rebukes the boys and turns to the disabled boy.

"Many siblings of conspicuous children live in a struggle with feelings of guilt." (2) It is particularly important for them to be able to express what bothers them, because in the everyday life of the family the problem child is a rival like any other sibling, although special regulations apply that can arouse jealousy and hostility. If the handicapped child makes violent remarks, it is important to take a close look so as not to prematurely pillory the normally developing child as the culprit.

Sibling conflicts in a dream

Violence among siblings rages on in many areas of life, including in children's dreams. Their everyday experiences are expressed in them, and conflicts are processed and resolved. Children love it when they are allowed to tell their dreams from time to time. It is a very simple and effective way to defuse the potential for aggression among siblings.

Ron lives in the shadow of an older sister who is a very good student while he has learning disabilities. Every day there is friction between them. The sister pulls his hair and the boy would like to turn his sister's neck. What is not possible in reality can look completely different in the world of dreams, because the boy dreams that the whole family has been in the dinosaur world and that a dinosaur has torn off his sister's head there. The family ran away and left the headless sister. In the end he says: “I think then, it was real. It could really have happened. " He's finally got rid of his sister and has his parents all to himself.

“For Ron, getting rid of the sister in the dream brought some relaxation. His annoying restlessness had subsided that day. In the afternoon he went to the hairdresser and almost had a bald head cut to protect himself from further attacks. " (3)


The experience of violence among siblings often has a long-term effect. Therefore, only the older or adult brothers and sisters are able to talk about them in order to give these events a place in their childhood history.


  • Ennulat, G .: When children are different - support for mothers in need, Kösel Verlag 2002 (quotations 1 and 2)
  • Ennulat, G .: I want to tell you my dream - talk to children about their dreams, Königsfurt Verlag 2001 (quote 3)
  • Guggenbühl, A .: The uncanny fascination of violence, dtv 1490
  • Bank / Kahn: Sibling, dtv 1690

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Gertrud Ennulat, pedagogue, freelance author (deceased 2008)


Created on September 1st, 2003, last changed on August 5th, 2010