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Teenage rivals

publication date: Apr 19, 2007
At a time when both parents and teens are struggling to define and redefine their roles, teenhood can be a challenging time for all concerned.  For parents the advantage at this age is that you can actually sit down and discuss things. However the obvious disadvantage is that teenagers are able to argue points and often give as good as they get.

There tends to be more arguments and rivalries when the first child enters the teen years and the relationship gets better again when the other child moves into this age group (and so on if there are more than two siblings). Some issues are more easily solved than others. For instance arguments about borrowing each other’s clothes can be resolved by having a rule that no one borrows anything without first asking. However deep-rooted jealousy, resentment and dislike which stem from early childhood is more problematic. The longer sibling rivalry continues, the worse it gets.

Stop and think
A parent’s gut reaction is often to say stop bickering. But for a happier household, specific grievances have to be addressed. You have to ask yourself what these children are feeling. Ask questions like, why are you generally in a bad mood with your sister or brother? And listen carefully to the answer.
While you should treat what your child has said as confidential it does help, once you’ve had time to think it through, if you say to other children that their brother is feeling a bit fragile and they should give him some space and hold back a little. Girls who are menstruating may feel particularly vulnerable and it doesn’t help if younger siblings keep telling her she’s moody!

It’s not fair!
If one child complains that you treat the other or others differently or accuses you of loving them more, you should:
  • Ask him to tell you why he feels that way, and give you examples.
  • Ask yourself - is the child right?
  • Acknowledge the child’s complaint, say you can see his point.
  • Apologise for any unfairness but stress that it doesn’t mean you love him any less.
  • Say how you will try and improve the situation and suggest he points out to you if you slip into old ways.
  • Your teen will – justifiably – think it’s unfair if you allow a younger child the same privileges as the older one.

  • Talk to and not at children and teens.
  • Listen carefully to what they have to say.
  • Treat them with respect.
  • Reach an agreement and act on it.
  • Each child has a right to confidentiality.

Hints for parents
No parent is perfect and if your children are constantly bickering or competing for attention remember that is what happens in most families. Pressures on parents and expectations of parenthood are often very high but it’s perfectly acceptable to be an OK parent who gets things wrong now and again.

If you were an only child, experiencing sibling rivalry as a parent can be a bit of a shock but don’t panic. Talk to other parents and take reassurance from them. Equally a parent who was a younger child may find it harder to identify with the elder daughter’s complaints of unfairness. Remember to keep the lines of communication open. Discuss family relationships in general terms and ask for their opinion but don’t attempt this mid-squabble. Wait for the dust to settle!