Brother and Sister Hate One Another: Parenting Tips for Sibling Rivalry


“I have a 14 year our daughter who is a basket of nerves. My son and she HATE each other. He knows exactly how to push her buttons and she gets so upset she usually just explodes in anger followed by tears. When she is upset there is no reasoning with her until she calms down. I can almost see the ‘excitement’ in my son’s eyes when he makes her cry. She is so vulnerable right now. He knows she is very aware of her figure and looks, so he is constantly calling her fat (although she is not fat at all). She then comes back at him with retard and why don’t we ‘send him away’. I fear what this is doing to her self-esteem and emotional needs.”


Fighting among siblings is really a problem now with the kids being off school for this extended period of time due to the coronavirus issue. Moms of adolescents may be troubled by the amount of fighting, both verbal and physical, that is going on. This is a common problem in homes with teens, and one many moms find particularly difficult and upsetting. One mother said, "They are constantly bickering and yelling. There's no peace in the house anymore. They won't listen to me, and nothing I do seems to have any effect on them. Why do they hate each other so?"

If parents experience these kinds of problems and concerns, it may help if they try to gain a better understanding of sibling battles and then develop a plan for dealing with them in their home. In this society, people have the expectation that they will love and get along well with everyone in their family. They always expect to feel positive toward their parents, brothers, sisters, spouses and children. Most people, however, have at least some times when they don't feel very loving toward each other.

Relationships within a family are close, both emotionally and physically, and very intense. When the television show parents have been looking forward to is being drowned out by the cheerleading practice in the basement, or when the turkey leg they were saving for a snack is missing from the refrigerator, or when their spouse is gleefully telling a crowd of friends how they dented the car fender, they are not likely to feel loving. Because they are so close, family members have a greater power than anyone else to make other members feel angry, sad, confused -- and loving. This is just as true for kids and teens as it is for grown-ups.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Most siblings have probably been good friends - and good enemies - as they have grown. Having a sibling provides an opportunity to learn to get along with others. Especially when siblings are younger, they may fight bitterly, but they will probably be playing together again an hour later. For example, a youngster will say something hateful to a sibling, knowing full well they will still be siblings and friends when the fight is over. If the same thing was said to a playmate outside the family, that playmate might take his or her marbles and go home for good. Thus, kids learn from relationships with siblings just how certain words or actions will affect another person without the fear of losing the person's friendship.

Siblings fight for a number of reasons:
  • They fight because they are growing up in a competitive society that teaches them that to win is to be better: "I saw it first." "I beat you to the water."
  • They fight because they are jealous: "He got a new bike. I didn't. They must love him more than they love me." 
  • They fight because they want a parent's attention, and the parent has only so much time, attention and patience to give. 
  • They fight over ordinary teasing, which is a way of testing the effects of behavior and words on another person: "He called me a _____" … "But she called me a _____ first."

Kids need not weeks or months, but years to learn some of the socially approved ways to behave in relationships. Lessons about jealousy, competition, sharing and kindness are difficult to learn, and, indeed, some grown-ups still haven't learned them. Teens fight for the same reasons younger kids fight. But teens are bigger, louder and better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt - and be hurt - by words and actions.

From a mother's point of view, they "ought" to be old enough to stop that kind of behavior. What moms may forget is that teens are under pressure from many different directions. Physical and emotional changes - and changes in thinking - cause pressures, as do changing relationships with parents and peers. 

Adolescents may be concerned about real or imagined problems. They feel pressure about the future as adults and about learning to be an adult. In many ways, adolescents are in greater need than ever for parental love, attention and concern, and for a belief that they are as good as their siblings. A teenager may not recognize these needs, or may be too embarrassed to express them verbally, so fighting with siblings as a way to get parental attention may actually increase in adolescence. In truth, siblings don't really hate each other, at least not all the time. As kids mature and learn to control their energies and anxieties, chances are they will be good friends.

Moms and dads can recognize the reasons for the fighting and make up their minds that they will not tolerate it. It's not easy to stick to that resolution! However, many parents have found that sticking to that resolution is the most important factor in bringing peace to their home. Parents should tell their teens that while it's normal to have disagreements, the constant fighting upsets them and they value peace at home. They can say they will no longer be the judge and jury over the siblings' disputes, and they will not stand for it! Then, they must stand by the resolution.

One mom reported that every time a fight started, she would say to her teens, "You're fighting. I'm leaving." And then she would go out to work in the yard or take a drive or run an errand -- but she simply walked away from the fighting. Another mom used a similar tactic. When the fighting began, she said, "Call me when it's over." Then she went to her bedroom, slamming the door to emphasize her point. Another parent made his teenagers leave the house when they began fighting.

In each of these cases, the parents demonstrated that fighting would not get their attention and they would not get involved in the fight. Other parents have had success in imposing penalties for fighting (e.g., fines deducted from allowances, a certain amount of grounding for each fighter, etc.). These parents are showing their teenagers the cost of fighting is higher than the reward. Whatever tactic moms and dads use, if they are consistent and stick to their guns, they will almost certainly be successful in reducing the amount of fighting between their kids.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Living with fighting siblings is not pleasant. If parents can remain calm in the face of battling adolescents, if they can retain their sense of humor, and if they put up a determined and united front, they will find the war in their living room will end before long.

As a parent, do you:
  • Avoid initiating competition among your kids?
  • Make sure older kids are not usually forced to give in to younger ones because "he's little" or "she doesn't know better?" 
  • Believe there can be something good in sibling fighting? 
  • Make sure your teens realize they are each unique and have a special set of strengths? 
  • Praise your teenagers for being who they are, not just for what they can do? 
  • Realize teens and younger kids need to be given the right to decide not to share at least some of the time? 
  • Recognize that each youngster is different? 
  • Set aside some time to be alone with each youngster? 
  • Talk to your teens about their fighting?

Here’s some more tips:
  1. Be available to listen patiently to the problem and control your emotions. Typically, parents have more insight into solving a problem, so give your child positive suggestions she can use to work the problem out with her sibling.
  2. Don't intervene, but do give some guidance.
  3. Don't take sides -- remain neutral.
  4. Encourage adolescents to work out issues constructively.
  5. Do not allow aggressive behavior (e.g., hitting, pushing, etc.).
  6. Express to each of your kids that you care for each of them as individuals and love them unconditionally.
  7. Give them the opportunity to work out their problems on their own.
  8. Help enforce the rules by outlining consequences when rules are broken. 
  9. Help them recognize each other's individuality. 
  10. Insist that they try to cooperate first. 
  11. Overcome your own competitive nature. 
  12. Share an interest in their activities. 
  13. Spend time with them individually. 
  14. Teach your kids good communication techniques, problem solving skills, and the importance of compromise.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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