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16-year-old daughter constantly tells her younger siblings what to do...


Our 16-year-old daughter constantly tells her younger siblings what to do and how to do it and that the way they do things isn't good enough. It creates daily friction in the family. What can we do to make it stop? And do I understand you to say that parents shouldn't pay a lot of attention to children when they are fighting?


Hi T.,

Re: And do I understand you to say that parents shouldn't pay a lot of attention to children when they are fighting?

That's right. Too much attention handicaps a child's ability to fully grow up. In this regard, there is general agreement among parenting pundits that adolescence now begins at 10 and lasts almost 20 years. In the second place, children don't really like a lot of attention. They like to be ignored, to be left alone. But a child has no way of knowing that if he's never experienced the joys of being ignored.

I'm describing a ubiquitous state of parental micromanagement, and when parents micromanage, children whine. The general theme of this whining is that everything is "too hard" and life isn't fair. One of the most predictable themes of all this complaining has to do with being treated unfairly by siblings, which brings me back to your question.

I'll just bet that when your younger kids complain about their older sister, you make the mistake of trying to solve the problem. Your involvement whips their conflict into a soap opera, replete with yelling and tears and general gnashing of braces. You need to deal with this with a sense of humor. Instead of helping to whip this into an intergenerational drama, turn it into your very own family sitcom.

The next time the younger kids come to you with tales of woe concerning older sis, just say, "I love you, too!" and walk away, singing the first verse and chorus from “The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music." After they recover from their disorientation, they will catch up to you, complaining ever more loudly. Turn around and say, "Life is good!" (Sing the opening lines from "When The Saints Go Marching In").

It's important that you look like a permanent resident of La-La Land. Just keep doing this until they give up, which they will --- eventually. Other equally irrelevant things you can say include "I hope the Cubs win the World Series" and "I just love those raspberry-filled Hostess Ho Ho’s -- don't you?"

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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