Teen & Preteen Sibling Relationships
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- Daughters, 12 & 16, screaming and cursing at each other
- Boys 9 & 14 just don't quit fighting
- 12 yr old hates her 8-year-old sister
Is there such a thing as couples counseling for siblings? I'm half kidding & half serious. My 12 and 16 year old daughters seem to be hormonal all the time. Small irritations turn into huge blow-ups, not every day but too often. We've tried talking things out when everyone is calm, but it doesn't seem to help. They both have tempers and seem to feel that it's OK, even good, to express their emotions, even if it means screaming, cursing & throwing things. I can't seem to convince them that a little self- control, tolerance and courtesy would make us all happier. I get along fine with each of them when we're alone, but get caught in the cross-fire when we're all together. I can't quite picture what a therapist would be able to do for us, but I'm willing to give it a try. Advice or suggestions or just sympathy would be greatly appreciated! fed up with the fighting
Anthony Wolf's ''Mom! Jason's Breathing on Me!'' is a good, concise guide to sibling rivalry. (For what it's worth, I interviewed Dr. Wolf on the phone a few years ago. When I asked him under what circumstances a parent should be seriously worried by sibling conflict, he said (paraphrased), ''Trust your gut. If you're afraid to leave them alone anymore, then it's time for family counseling.'') Melanie
I know that some sibling fighting is normal, but lately my 2 boys, 91/2 and 14 just don't quit.
In the past they've gotten along some of the time and would fight some of the time. But lately it seems constant. My oldest just turned 14, and though he's in most ways a really great kid, he really has turned 14 with a vengence. My little one can be very pesty and is very dramatic, so he pushes and pushes and pushes and of course he's the one who gets hurt. The older one also can be an incredible taunt and really mean spirited at times.
If I can head it off at the pass I usually try to separate them...then they both say ''I wasn't doing anything, he was doing.......'' If something happens and I don't see it, they both blame the other.
My older son lately has been saying ''You should punish him, you let him get away with everything''. This is actually NOT true, but has gotten me wondering if we are consistant in our disciplin and how we can constructively disciplin both boys to lessen this.
My brother is 7 years older than me and when we were kids we fought ALL the time. I wanted to be with him and his older friends (at that age difference, I was REALLY a little kid to the teenagers). He teased me and made my life miserable, especially when he had to babysit me. Now we are (and have been since he left home for college) soooo close (we're both in our 50's).
Any advice? Will they grow out of this? Is it heightened by my 14year old's raging hormones? I'm happiest these days when one or both of them are not home. tired of kids fighting
I'm probably most unqualified to give advice, being a single child myself and raising one too, but I read about a technique that made sense to me: Put the responsibility on the children. Their goal is not to fight and solve their own problems. For every fight they both get consequences no matter who started what. Ideally, that brings them to the point that they rather work something out, before the adult steps in. Basically you make them a team (kids vs. parents) and they will win or lose as a team. (I'd set a timer for them to find a solution). That'll break the habit/pattern of earlier years when fights were created to get the attention of a parent. Sounds good enough to me in theory for the age of your kids - but what do I know? My husband is from a family with 7 kids and the only time there wasn't a fight in the house was Christmas morning.
If your kids were girls I'd think my kids had moved to your house! I'm in exactly the same situation, and can't decide if I need to do something about this or if it's just something to endure. The general nastiness of the 14-year-old has definitely gotten worse over the last 6 months or so, she just flat out does not want a younger sibling, she sees her sister as nothing but a pest, an annoyance. The younger one of course adores her older sister and wants to be with her all the time, it's really very sad. About the only time they get along is when they're apart, if you know what I mean. I toy with the idea of demanding civil behavior and punishing for uncivil behavior, but I've never gone in much for punishment, and I'm afraid that would just increase the antagonism in our house. Currently I get along fine with each of them, they never pull the attitude/name calling/rudeness, etc. on me, but am I failing in my duty as a parent if I don't do more to stop their fighting? I hope someone has some good advice, or at least reassurance for us.
Can't we all just get along?
My best advice is to try and persuade the 14 year old that he is too grown up and mature now to waste his time teasing a little kid. Also, point out how unfair and unsportsmanlike it is to pick on someone so much smaller. Of course, then you might have him turn on you (someone his own size) to wrestle, fight, etc.
I don't think the 9 year old will be mature enough to leave the big brother alone (you can never dismiss the possibility of provocation). Also, you want the 9 year old to feel like you are protecting him from real physical violence (again, without being unfair to the older one).
We have dealt for 14 years with a mean-spirited older brother teasing a 4 yrs younger sib, and almost nothing has worked-- not writing 100 times ''I will treat X with respect,'' not loss of privileges. And after all they do need to relate. A family therapist says that if they can talk without calling names, and work things out, that that's the main skill they need to deal with each other. In my opinion, that's not dealing with the obnoxious teasing. But, to my surprise, the older teen is hanging out with more mature kids, and is seeing himself as too mature-- most of the time. Good luck.
I saw the advice from someone - re: your kids fighting endlessly - to give the kids consequences equally no matter who started what. In theory, I understand that, since drawing an adult into a conflict is often the whole fun of the thing. But on a gut level I also have to say that as a younger sibling with an older sister who was really mean to me my whole childhood, my parents' ''let them work it out'' approach really hurt. I felt so abandoned. As it turns out, my sister is bipolar and probably was dealing with mental health issues the whole time - undiagnosed and unaddressed. The realization that I spent my childhood being bullied by a mentally ill sibling without intervention from my parents really stung.
I'm not saying anyone in your family is mentally ill, I'm just saying that there is a cost to not interventing in some cases. I never felt I was worthy of protection, or that my feelings counted. That's not the message you want to convey either, I'm guessing.
bullied little sister
OK, I'm desperate. I have two daughters, 12 and 8 years old. Life in our house is filled with constant tension, squabbles, bickering and outright battles every day, over every single issue in the house. It's basically been like this a lot of the time since the 2nd one was born, but it feels like it's reached an unbearable level.
Elder says she hates Younger and everything about her. Younger actually really looks up to Elder and wishes she could get her affection, but Elder has been so consistently dissing her, that she acts out a lot (cries). Elder says that Younger always gets her way, and that she (E.) always gets in trouble, so she ends up giving in all the time and then resenting and hating Younger.
Their battles range from everything from socks to the last glass of orange juice in the refrigerator, to who gets to have more sleepovers or playdates. (invariably, Elder) Sometimes I am so desperate that I feel like getting THEM a divorce -- they seem to have irreconcilable differences. The four of us cannot do anything together as a family because it is so horribly unpleasant, so we end up separating often and are even doing separate vacations this year (dad with Elder, mom with Younger).
Elder feels very bitterly about the very existence of her sister and says I should've realized this would be a possibility when I decided to have two children.
Clearly, we need help. I would like to find a therapist who specializes in sibling/family issues although Elder is exTREMEly resistant to the idea and says she will not cooperate, that she cannot trust a therapist, wouldn't talk to one, etc. I'm worried that forcing her to go would be counterproductive but I'm really at the end of my tether and not sure what else to do. We're all completely worn out. Anonymous please
All siblings fight. Some hate each other. Others say they hate each other. If there are also positive moments from time to time, your kids are normal and the best thing to do is stay out of it entirely. Don't take sides, don't even listen to their whining about each other. The mantra is ''you two need to work this out''.
What sounds different about your family is that you've given so much power to your kids --- especially the 12 year old! If you decide on therapy, that's IT. Its not her place to make that decision...or any important decision about family dynamics. Don't give her the power--she doesn't really want it.
My suggestion for you, whether or not you decide to get the counselling is to explain to the girls that ''getting along'' is now their #1 job. You have the right to expect behavior that is acceptable in your home. You can't order them to love one another --- but the secret is ...they do... and that's why they ''hate'' each other so much. They have the habit of being mean to one another -- but, they can acquire the habit of NOT being mean to one another, too. It will take work. You are not depriving them of anything of value by taking away the right to be mean,.
I'm very serious about expecting better behavior. If you don't get the behavior you desire, I'd restrict them both to the house --- and take ALL their privileges away (phone, computer, even blow dryer if you have to) until they earn them back by demonstrating consistant decent behavior.
I would not believe this works if I hadn't seen it in a family with which I grew up. 5 kids in 2 bedrooms, and any fighting better be private--or else. Now in their 40s, the 5 live within 2 miles and are all good friends, and communicate well.
Can I say that I practice what I preach here? Not entirely, but I try...and my kids are sometimes heartbreakingly kind to one another.... so the mandate for me is to STAY OUT OF IT as much as possible, and keep my fingers crossed that we get through without bloodshed.
Have I pulled privileges for behavior? -- absolutely.
Anonymous for Kids' sake
Please protect your 8-year-old.
I grew up unprotected from the bully in our house (my sister) and it has had long-lasting ramifications. Just because abuse is coming from a sibling instead of a parent, does not mean it is not abuse--nor is it something the two of them should ''work out on their own.''
Your 8-year-old's very existence should not be up for discussion.
I'm sorry to be blunt, but your 12-year-old sounds spoiled rotten--by her parents. You must find a new way to operate. Accomodating her attrocious behaviour by giving her extra sleep-overs and separate vacations will do her no good in the long run. And what do you think you are teaching her little sister? Your 12-year-old should not be allowed to refuse therapy, nor should she be allowed to think her behaviour is acceptable. Your family is at stake. I can tell you that my family has been irrevocably fractured--and this includes relationships with my parents.
I have one final question: Would you put up with a classmate-bully treating your 8-year- old daughter in this manner?
A mom of two girls
You are not alone in this difficult and painful situation. You could have been describing my family. We have three absolutely great children. They are smart, funny, loving, kind, creative, etc. The two younger are boys, 4 years apart, now 19 and 14 and a half. For years they could not be together without thermonuclear dispute. Their relationship and associated impossible behavior when they were together changed our family life in ways large and small. I urge you to find counseling, however. It can help. We saw family counselors (slightly helpful) and, at one particularly awful period, the boys saw separate, individual counselors (extremely helpful). It took us several tries to find a counselor for the resistant child. (Once he sat in the waiting area and refused to go in.) One reassuring (if that's the right word) thing was that we did find outstanding counselors who had experience with these issues. Our experience was that having the our sons see different counselors was important to the boys' buy-in.
I can't say that things are now wonderful between our sons. Believe it or not, we still hesitate to leave them home alone together, although they say that this is our problem not theirs. We do now have some good times together, but I have scaled back my expectations. Sometimes, we have a good meal together, or the boys are charming and gracious (and don't fight) at a family event. We can usually watch movies together now. Vacations? We now do separate things with each child, and, although I am sad about this, I wish we had done this earlier when our trips and vacations left us (the parents)drained and unhappy. (The kids, however, do have more positive memories of these vacations than do their parents!)
Good luck. Sympathetic
Re your elder daughter's resistance to therapy: Speaking as a parent who is nearing this point myself, I think you should ignore her. If she cannot/will not stop the behavior, therapy is a good idea. I suspect she will, in fact, talk to the therapist. Inside, she is not happy with herself for abusing her younger sister and upsetting her parents. She needs help learning new ways to cope with jealous, angry feelings.
If counseling helps, all parties will benefit, and the benefits will be long-lasting. If she doesn't un-learn bullying, she is likely to ruin other important relationships in her life as an adult.
If counseling doesn't help, and you have the money, you might think about boarding school. This would be a big relief for your younger daughter. Please don't think I don't have compassion for your elder daughter -- I do. She isn't happy right now. I think boarding school would probably be a good and possibly transforming experience for her. (I and my siblings went to boarding school and loved it. There are many insightful posts in the UCB Parent archives re boarding schools, and you'll note that nearly all are positive.) Boarding school is not a banishment, but an attempt to rearrange your two daughters' lives in order to make both of them happier.
Good luck. Anon for own daughter's sake
I cannot recommend a particular therapist, but I'm so glad that you're looking for one. I'm 50 years old and was the recipient of my much older sister's hatred growing up and into my mid-thirties until I decided not to talk with her anymore. I haven't talked with her in 14 years. My parents did nothing to intervene and my mostly negative interactions with her and my parents' lack of protection/action have caused me quite a bit of damage (among many other issues), for which I am in therapy. Time or Newsweek magazine had an article a few years back on the damage that serious sibling rivalry can do. Might be worth your checking out. I think this is a mostly overlooked area. Please persist for both of their sakes. anon
Each parent should try to give each girl undivided attention for a few minutes every day. You might try taking a friend for each girl on outings or vacations. Or invite a another family with two compatible kids. Take two cars and put the friends together so the sisters don't even have to ride in the car together. anon