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March Break Brawls – Why Cousins Fight

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March break is approaching and for many that means holiday time with the extended family. Getting together with the cousins sounds great at first, but often things go sour and before you know it, the kids are at war. Some one is crying, another is complaining something isn’t fair. Doors slam – toys snatched.


Everyone was so excited to see their cousins and now that it is finally here, it’s a lousy time. We scratch our heads and wonder why the heck we make such an effort to get together if it always turns out like this.


But why? What’s it all about?


In order to understand children and their behaviours we have to see them in the social field where the behaviour is occurring.   Your own children have a good sense of the family dynamics at home when it is just their nuclear family. Each child has established their role, place and importance in the family.   When you throw in cousins, all the usual dynamics are thrown off kilter. It’s like adding a new ornament to a hanging mobile. A stable system is thrown out of stasis and some kids handle that better than others. If you were together long enough – you would re-establish a new balance, but with short periodic family get together, time doesn’t allow the settling into new patterns before the holiday is over! Only to stir up the calm the next time the families converge.


Perhaps at home, you are the eldest calls who calls all the shots and feels like top dog. Now the cousins arrive and they are a year older. Now you are taking orders instead of giving them. Maybe your baby sister relies on you as a playmate so you feel she loves you, but when her little cousin shows up, she drops you like a stone. Ouch! Worse, with the courage of a partner in crime she may decide its pay back time and devise a way to take you down!


Gender can also come into the equation.   My brother Jeff would allow me to play rocket ship with him, but when Jim and John arrived on the scene, I was quickly kicked off the space pad.   “Boys rule – girls drool”.


Now your feeling like the marginalized cousin and can’t get in the game – so you get rude, and physical. Discouraged kids misbehave and they are the ones who then get in trouble! A double whammy!


So what is a parent to do?


  1. Watch for the shift in dynamics so you understand your child’s struggles
  2. Listen and empathize. They need to feel understood
  3. Empower them to speak-up respectfully or get a new game started and take matters into their own hands
  4. Step in and break up cliques and exclusionary games
  5. Give the “isolate” cousin special time and attention with the adults
  6. Find special one on one time with a discouraged cousin
  7. Help them find an activity or game that the others would like to join
  8. Have a little “pow wow“ with all the cousins and make a plan for the weekend that includes some ground rules for getting along.
  9. Play is harder for kids than doing defined tasks, so assign jobs – two cousins on dish duty are more likely to laugh and bond
  10. Be patient – as children age they get more mature at their socialization skills. Don’t cancel a holiday and drift from your family because it’s a tough vacation. Hang in!


About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

4 Responses to “March Break Brawls – Why Cousins Fight”

  1. Megan Scott

    My daughter is 13 and her cousin is 15. They moved 3 doors down from us so they couldn’t get a break from each other as much as normal. They got in a fight a month ago, and her cousin (a girl) refuses to talk to or acknowledge my daughter. They ride the same bus and she ignores my daughters pleas to talk. My daughter takes it very hard. And besides all that, blocks her from all social media. I don’t know what to do. I feel angry @ my sister and the entire family. Who does that???

    • Alyson Schafer

      I am so sorry the girls are not getting along. The issues is between the girls, not between you and your sister. You can support your daughter to help her understand to help her conduct herself and to support her emotionally. It’s a tough age for figuring out relationship conflict. I suspect something will happening the future that will get them talk and get back this impasse.

      • Sandra

        That’s terrible advice! Call your sister to talk and devise a plan to help the girls get over this. They are family, by staying quiet you are conding the behaviour.

        • Alyson Schafer

          If your sister doesn’t know the girls are not getting along, and that her daughter has distanced herself, she should be made aware of the situation. Parents can coach kids but they can’t make them get along. Make sure you stay within the realm of coaching – not triangulating and rescuing. I hope that makes sense!


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