How to Handle Sibling Rivalry Between Teens

If you have more than one child, then you’ve dealt with sibling rivalry at some point. When the kids are little, it might include physical altercations, constant bickering over who has more (television time, attention, cookies), and lots of tattling and teasing. As kids grow, they often become more subtle when it comes to sibling rivalry. Your teens might be competitive, always trying to one-up one another when it comes to grades, jobs, or friends. They might simply ignore each other, each choosing to lead his or her own life without talking to their sibling. On the other hand, your teens might be good friends. If you’re struggling with sibling rivalry between your teens, take a look at the these suggestions for improving the situation.

Maintain Expectations for How They Treat Each Other

When your children were small, you likely put an end to arguments that turned into crying or shoving matches. Now that your kids are teenagers, you must not accept behavior that is cruel or abusive to a sibling. If a behavior would be classified as bullying in a school environment, it’s also bullying at home. This can include not only physical aggression, but also making threats and verbal assault. Have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying between your teens.

It’s important to set a good example for communication and problem resolution. If you often find yourself yelling or speaking sarcastically, it’s likely that your teens will do the same to one another. Learn how to handle your own anger in a productive way and how to “fight fair,” and your teens will follow suit.

Have One-on-One Time With Each Child

Just as young children act out when they want attention, teens can do the same thing. If they are feeling frustrated with school, their job, friends, their chores at home, or anything else, they might take it out on a sibling. Having one-on-one time with a parent can go a long way toward helping them feel heard and giving them an opportunity to vent, air their grievances, and feel heard and loved. Plan on spending some time with each teen each week.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by this suggestion because you don’t have a lot of extra time between work, house responsibilities, volunteer obligations, and other jobs you have to do, keep in mind that this time does not have to take long. Talk to your teens about what they might like to do, or present some ideas of your own. You can also include your teens in activities that you’re already doing if it’s something they find interesting. For example, you could take one teen grocery shopping with you each week, making the effort to stop for coffee on the way. Another one of your children might enjoy gardening, so you might plan on spending an hour or so tackling the weeding and planting one busy weekend.

Don’t Feed Into the Competitions

In many families, there is one child who excels at school, another who excels at sports, and a third who might be a social butterfly. While it’s fine that all of your teens have different personalities and strengths, it’s best not to dwell on them or, for example, to talk to your sporty child about how well his or her sibling is doing in math this year. They already naturally try to compete amongst themselves, and there’s no need to feed into it.

While you might think it’s just fostering healthy competition, feelings are likely to be hurt. Your book-smart teenager might think that you value sports achievements more than an A in English class, for example. It’s best to simply treat each child as an individual and not focus on who does what better. Also, be sure that you have similar expectations for your kids as far as school and grades are concerned. There’s no reason why your sporty or social child should not be expected to do his or her best when it comes to schoolwork (which is not to say that every teen will be able to get all As, of course).

Encourage Teamwork

Letting your teens handle a common problem together can bring them closer and help them grow their relationship. Kids their age can handle tasks like cleaning up the kitchen after dinner or getting the garage organized. They could also both pursue the same volunteer opportunities or some other non-competitive activity in your community. When they work together, they’ll learn more about themselves and each other.

Try asking them to set up your new computer or ask them to help you plan an upcoming milestone birthday party for your parent or your spouse. Finding something that they might enjoy and having them work on it together can do a world of good for their relationship.

Remember That Sibling Rivalry is Ultimately Not Your Problem

In the end, keep in mind that the relationship between your teenagers is their own issue to figure out. While it’s natural that you want them to get along, it’s also not your burden to bear. As long as they’re not abusing one another and not creating a hostile home environment, teens who feel neutral toward one another will need to decide to pursue a relationship when they are ready to do so. Keep in mind that the way they treat each other as teens might look nothing like the way they relate as adults. Many loving adult sibling pairs did not speak much when they were teens or spent their childhood years squabbling. Others decide not to try to have a relationship once they are grown. Try not to let it get to you if they do not have the close relationship you wish they had.

If you are worried that your teenagers are abusing or bullying one another, this is something that needs to be addressed right away. Do what you need to do; they may need counseling or, if the situation is severe, law enforcement might need to be brought in. For normal sibling rivalry and arguing that doesn’t respond to the tips outlined above, the best course of action might be to step back and ignore it. Just as your toddlers often stopped misbehaving once the audience was removed (i.e. you left the room), your teens might do the same. There are also some great lessons that can be learned by squabbling siblings. Make sure everyone is safe and then simply let them be. Your teenagers might surprise you by repairing their relationship on their own!