Straight Talk Advice

Apr 25, 2012

Mother turns to panel for help with sibling rivalry

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: Help! My first daughter,10, from a previous relationship and four-year-old daughter from my current marriage, fight constantly. This leads to mini arguments with my husband. Why do they fight so much? How can I help them get along? Perhaps your panelists can look back. — Mom in Orange County, Calif.

Sarah 19, Santa Clara, Calif. Ask me a question

My half-siblings are 10 and 11 years younger and we often don't get along. It is hard to avoid mothering them or resenting the parental attention they get. Reassure your older daughter that she is not being replaced and that you love her dearly. Tell her it makes you happy when your children get along. Spend one-on-one time with her frequently. As she enters her teen years, a close and open relationship will be crucial.

Omari 18, Wellington, Florida Ask me a question

I fought like crazy with my sister who was six years older. Now she is my best friend and I tell her everything. We still fight occasionally, but not physically anymore. In the end maturity wins. It will happen for your daughters, too. All siblings fight; it's inevitable.

Elise 20, Rexburg, Idaho Ask me a question

When my mom remarried, I and my two teenage brothers inherited five teenage stepsiblings who we had absolutely nothing in common with. There was a lot of fighting, often physical. Make sure your family comes together frequently for dinner and/or games. Making family number one will give your children something to model when they're older. Be patient. Kids will fight no matter what you do.

Katelyn 17, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

My sister and I are both adopted and we often clash. My mom constantly reminds us to respect each other's personality. There could be a favoritism issue. Ask why they don’t get along. This will shed light on the matter and be a healthy communication example. Also, finding an activity they both enjoy could give them some happy times together.

Christina 19, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

Several siblings and nieces live with me. The ones I fight with most are six and eight years younger than me. They fight constantly with each other, too, over trivial things, mostly due to jealousy. As I've gotten older I can see their points of view, but it's hard when you're young. Give each child frequent positive attention and praise them when they are polite.

Colin 18, Sacramento Ask me a question

I have a little sister and I'm a better, more patient person because of it (not sure if she is, though — maybe I should have bugged her more). Siblings who get along well are just weird so please don't think you have failed as a parent because your children are bitter and petty towards one another. Young children are about as morally developed as your average sociopath. Keep teaching them to be better people and pray that it sinks in. I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty sure that's what most parents do.

DEAR MOM: Sorry about the apparent inevitability of sibling rivalry. Darn little sociopaths! The panelists enjoyed looking back and offer some great solutions. I agree with Sarah to focus on your 10-year-old. She likely needs extra attention to not feel jealous of siblings who have both a mother and a father in the home. Stepfathers often aren't bonded, so by all means, drop arguing with him and give her extra loving attention, privately if need be. Also, make sure you're not succumbing to “pulchri-nomics” (where the cutest gets the most love and attention). Beyond this, your best resource is wisdom. Counseling, spiritual work, and courses like the Landmark Forum can help you clean up your own act so you can discern what's going on and bring healing and humor to family conflicts rather than adding to the storm. —Lauren

Editor's Note: My two brothers and I, extremely close as adults, fought like cats and dogs growing up — much to the disgust of my mother. She would just walk out of the room. My own kids had their physical phases on their way to a deep loyal love also. I was grateful for the personal work I had done to not let their fighting rattle me and to be able to discern how and when to intervene. (Personal work is never finished, by the way, and I still work every day on cleaning up my own act.

One of the funniest Mother's Day card I ever saw was a picture of three siblings standing in row, stair steps, each pointing at the other. The caption said, "Sorry Mom, I wasn't trying to hurt you, I was trying to hurt them!" —Lauren

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