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How Siblings Resolve Their Conflicts: The Importance of First Offers, Planning, and Limited Opposition


  • This research was supported by Grant HD38895 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to Nancy Stein and Grant 410-2002-0486 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Hildy Ross. We thank the families who generously participated in this study, Marc Hernandez and Krista Gass who coordinated the data collection in Chicago, Holly Recchia, Alex North, and Lauren Chance who coordinated data coding in Waterloo, Erik Woody who consulted on data analysis, William Turnbull who commented on an earlier version of this paper, and research assistants in Chicago and Waterloo.

concerning this article should be addressed to Hildy Ross, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1 Canada. Electronic mail may be sent to


Sixty-four sibling dyads (4–12 years old; 61% males; 83% European-American) were asked to resolve an ongoing conflict. Older siblings provided leadership by suggesting, modifying, justifying, and requesting assent to plans for conflict resolution. Younger siblings countered and disagreed, but also contributed to planning and agreed to their siblings' plans. Compromises were associated with first offers that met both children's goals, future-oriented planning, and limited opposition. Win–loss outcomes followed offers favoring only one child and arguments over older siblings' plans. Conflicts were unresolved when negotiations included frequent accusations and opposition, but little planning. Thus mutually beneficial conflict resolution required that children shift focus from debating past wrongs to developing plans to meet their unrealized goals in future interaction.

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