Teenage Sibling Rivalry

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Whether it’s listening to your children argue over what to watch on television or dealing with incalculable cries of “It’s not fair!” sibling rivalry can drive even the most even-keeled parents crazy.  The tension between siblings is stressful, yes, but siblings being mean to each other is perfectly normal. “Sibling rivalry is mislabeled, and needs to be reframed,” explains Dr. Pamela Varaday, the Santa Monica-based clinical psychologist. “It’s not inherently bad, but rather, is rooted in biology. Children have competing needs and fight over resources, namely, their parents.”

Siblings fight over parental attention, items, and sometimes absolutely nothing. Teenage siblings argue just as much as younger children, but they tend to fight about different things. They might also use different and more grown-up language.

Sibling fighting also has a useful purpose. When children interact with parents, they learn about authority. But interactions with their siblings help them learn about and practice skills for relating to peers. If sibling fighting is handled the right way, these skills include:

  • solving problems and resolving conflicts
  • treating others with empathy
  • dealing with different opinions
  • compromising and negotiating.

A parent’s challenge is to recognize the triggers, then foster attitudes and behaviors that bring noteworthy change. Here are some suggestions for handling fights among pre-teen and teenage siblings.

  • Encourage siblings to resolve fights themselves
  • Help with problem-solving
  • Focus on what the fight is about
  • Help siblings calm down
  • Keep track of how fights get resolved

Although sibling rivalry is normal, it is important to acknowledge when there is an issue. Here are a few ways to identify if the rivalry is unhealthy.

  • If it won’t stop
  • If it is upsetting others or hurting their feelings
  • If it is regularly physical, menacing or aggressive.

The best place to start taking action is by talking to your primary care physician, who can give you advice. If necessary, the practioner can also refer you to a specialist who treats in children’s or teenagers’ behaviour issues. It’s best to involve both children, because taking only one child for help with sibling fighting might make that child feel solely responsible.

The reality? Kids fight. As long as things don’t get out of hand it is normal. 

Resource: “Sibling fighting: pre-teens and teenagers” by Raising Children

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