The Sibling Struggle

Sometimes, you can't help but fight with your sibling. We've got some tips for keeping the peace.

Caterina Bernardi/Corbis

If you’ve got a sibling, it’s normal to have a rivalry with him or her. Here’s how to make the relationship work.

Caitlyn Adams used to spend hours playing with Barbie dolls with her little sister in their home in Kyle, Texas. Now that she’s in high school, though, Caitlyn wishes her younger sibling would leave her alone. “I need my space,” Caitlyn, 14, tells Choices.

Her sister, Summer, 9, barges into her room without knocking and always wants to tag along with Caitlyn and her friends on trips to the mall or the movies. “I just want her to play with me,” Summer says.

But the first thing Caitlyn says when Summer walks into her room is “Get out!” “She’s mad because I grew up and grew out of things like playing with dolls,” Caitlyn says.

One of the hardest things about growing up is growing apart from your siblings. Between the ages of 10 and 15 is the absolute worst for sibling rivalry, says Eleanor Mackey, a clinical psychologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Kids push away their siblings because they’re trying to become more independent. And a younger sibling will get hurt.”

So there are often tears in the Adams household. “They’re like my sisters and me,” says the girls’ mother, Lisa Adams. “They fight hard, but they love hard.”

Sometimes your brothers and sisters can be your best friends—and sometimes they can drive you absolutely crazy. “You’re going to feel strongly about your siblings,” Mackey says. “You’re going to love them, or hate them, or both at the same time.”

Here is Choices’ guide for coping with the ups and downs of sibling rivalry:

Realize it’s normal.

Siblings are related, but they’re not exact replicas of each other. Each has his or her own distinct personality. As a result, there will be times when siblings don’t get along. “It’s normal,” Mackey says. “It’s OK to have mixed feelings about your siblings. It’s OK to love them and have them drive you crazy at the same time.”

Give the relationship time.

“I think Summer and I will be closer when we get older,” Caitlyn says. “I’m going through things teenagers go through, and she hasn’t even started middle school yet. She doesn’t know half the things I’ve gone through, like boy trouble or drama with friends. She’ll understand more when she’s older.”

Understand that parents don’t treat their kids the same way.

Caitlyn admits she’s jealous that Summer gets cool gadgets at an earlier age than she did. “I got my first cell phone at age 10, and she already has a cell phone,” Caitlyn says. “I couldn’t watch PG-13 movies until I was 13, and now she can watch movies I would have never been allowed to watch when I was her age. It’s not fair.”

At the same time, though, Caitlyn understands that her parents aren’t intentionally trying to hurt her feelings. “I was the first child, so my parents were learning with me,” Caitlyn says.

Mackey recommends that older siblings try to adopt Caitlyn’s perspective. “Parents often treat their kids differently,” she says. “They may have been uptight with the first child and then realize that the older one is fine and allow the younger ones more freedom.”

In the meantime, try to get along.

Think about it: You don’t have to be mad at your brother or sister all the time. There’s bound to be something the two of you like to do together. Mackey suggests scheduling time together where it’s just the two of you. Caitlyn and Summer enjoy having cookie-decorating contests. “Take some time to connect,” Mackey says. “That way, the younger sibling doesn’t feel like you’re going away and never coming back.”

One thing that older siblings should try to understand: When a younger brother or sister is doing something that annoys you, he or she is often trying to get your attention. “When your sibling goes and takes your clothes without asking or is being a pest by reading your e-mails or listening to your phone calls,” Mackey says, “he or she is trying to connect with you.”

Spend quality time apart.

Usually it’s the older sibling who wants space from the younger one, but there are times when the little brother or sister wants to be alone too. It’s good to have your own interests, your own friends, and your own time with Mom or Dad. Try not to take it as an insult when your sibling needs some space for himself or herself. And if you’re the older brother or sister, encourage your younger sibling to do things without you.

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