Sibling relationships among teenagers seem to vary enormously. Of all my clients, I have seen sibling relationships range from being the best of friends to the bitterest of enemies. Usually it lands somewhere in the middle.
If your children are really close, consider yourself lucky. Or, perhaps you’ve done things to help them get along. Either way, it’s so wonderful to see your kids love and enjoy one another.
If your children don’t get another with each other, it’s often just the way their personalities match up. Sometimes they will continue to struggle with each other no matter what you do. In other situations there are a few things you can do to help.
It’s really important to try and let your kids be different. They will not likely perform equally well in school, sports, social relationships, etc. Each has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses. Help them along to improve in their weaker areas, and continue growing in their strengths. However, don’t compare your kids to one another out loud. They already do this to themselves enough.
It can be very beneficial for the kids to have some things they share and some things that are individually theirs. This starts with possessions and also includes sports, friends, time with you, and goals. Time with you is a really big one. This means individual, fun time with each parent. This isn’t just driving to a sports practice. It’s going on a hike, playing mini golf, etc.
They are not responsible for one another’s happiness. This is actually something I find comes up often in therapy. It’s particularly true with the older sibling feeling responsible for the younger one’s happiness. The older sibling often sees it as their job to keep the younger sibling(s) on track. When the younger one is making bad choices, the older one will often try to parent their little brother or sister. We work hard in counseling to help the older sibling just be a big sister or big brother. That’s what the younger child usually needs anyhow. The younger one needs someone whom they can confide in and who will give them perspective.
Don’t force your children to spy on each other for you. While you do want your children to tell you if one of your other children is doing something really dangerous such as taking drugs, you don’t want to create an environment of mistrust. You harm the sibling relationship when you ask them to tell on each other for every small transgression.
Creating a loving family where siblings get along well can be a huge challenge. Sometimes it comes naturally, which is wonderful! Other times though, parents have to work really hard to help facilitate closeness. For some unlucky families even the best efforts go unrewarded. Hold on to hope though because even siblings who do not get along as children often develop a special closeness as adults.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT