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A Survival Guide to Siblings

Whether they’re your bffs or you can’t believe you’re related, getting along with siblings can be tough— especially during the pandemic. here’s how to protect your space, keep the peace, and even (gasp!) enjoy your sibs.

If you have a brother, a sister, or a few of both, you know siblings can be super frustrating. They pick fights, they take over the TV, they borrow your stuff without telling you. “The sibling relationship is really complicated,” says Claire Lerner, a social worker specializing in child development. “There’s lots of love, and also lots of feelings—competition, comparing, vying for your parents’ attention.” Thanks to Covid- 19, all these tough feelings are probably magnified, because your siblings may be your sole option for IRL socialization.

Even if you get along well with your sibs most of the time, you probably have days you wish you were an only child. That’s totally normal, but the sibling relationship has benefits you might not be aware of. Siblings teach us how to share, communicate, manage conflict, and have someone else’s back. Those are skills you’ll need if you ever want to live with a roommate, get along with co-workers, or enjoy harmonious relationships with friends and romantic partners. So instead of thinking of your siblings as those people hogging the remote and eating all the cereal, think of them as free, live-in life coaches. Read on for tips from experts and teens about how to coexist peacefully with even the most frustrating types of brothers and sisters.

The Ice Queen (or King)

You live in the same house, but your older sister acts like you don’t exist. She’s always holing up with her phone, which leaves you feeling left out. How do you get her attention?

HOW TO DEAL: If your sister would rather hang (virtually or otherwise) with her friends than watch TV with you or just generally give you the time of day, you might be tempted to follow her around to remind her you’re alive. Don’t do that! “Older siblings need their own space and need to be around people their own age,” says Tara Kierstead, a school counselor in Maine. The more you annoy your sis, the less she’ll want to spend time with you. Instead, tell her you’re feeling left out, and suggest an activity to do together, like designing some Sims families. You could also ask your sister to teach you a skill, like how to sink a hook shot. “Teaching someone can make a bond closer,” Kierstead says, and everyone loves to feel like an expert.

The Super Pest

Your 6-year-old brother is cute in small doses, but he wants to be with you All. The. Time. You love your bro, but if you have to sit through one more episode of Paw Patrol, you’re seriously going to lose your mind.

HOW TO DEAL: Recruit your brother as an assistant: Have him quiz you at bio or help record your TikTok videos. “Younger siblings are happy to do anything the older kids are doing, so if you include them, it will have a positive result,” says Debra MacDonald, site director of the Center for Parenting Education. Another trick? Swap out the Paw Patrol for a childhood fave. Theo Blaustein, 13, had a sleepover with his sister, Amelie, 7, when she finished the third Harry Potter book. “We watched the movie in my room together,” he says, “then she slept on my floor.” Your sib will be thrilled, and it’ll be easier to ask for some space in exchange.

The Spotlight Hog

Your older brother has it all: good grades, sports glory, and your parents’ approval. How can you shine when he gets all the attention?

HOW TO DEAL: “You’re never going to be able to eliminate that competitive element,” says family therapist Julie Baron, but it helps to remember you’re on the same team. “My older sister and I compete in a lot of the same activities, and sometimes I get jealous of her,” Zaid Fattah, 17, says. “I try to manage those feelings by recognizing that we’re stronger as siblings than as competitors or enemies.” If you’re still struggling with feelings of competitiveness, make a list of things you’re good at. They can be things your sibling excels at or not—they’re still your successes.

The Space Invader

Your sister acts like your shared room is her private recording studio/in-home gym, which means you wind up hiding in the bathroom to have a few moments of peace.

HOW TO DEAL: You can try the old dividing-the-room-in-two- with-a-line-of-tape trick, but that’s not going to help when your sister is doing an online hip-hop workout while you’re trying to focus on homework. Better to devise a schedule where you each get an hour or two in the room to yourself per day or per week, says Baron. (Include your parents in the scheduling process.) It can also help to find other private spaces, like a quiet corner or a section of the backyard. But don’t sequester yourself in the bathroom. It’s kind of gross, and that’s one room the whole family deserves equal access to.

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