Taking the rivalry out of the sisterhood
When talking to them individually about problems, never judge the other and always help them empathise with their sister.
ASK THE EXPERT: Q:My 16-year-old daughter has always been a strong character and a bit fiery, but recently she seems to be fighting with everyone. She is very competitive and always trying to pick fights, particularly with her younger sister who is a much more laid-back character. They are very close in age, just one year between them, and I think a lot of the conflict stems from jealousy. The younger has started to do well in school and our eldest is very competitive and puts her down.
It has got to a point where we can’t praise the youngest if she gets a good report or else the older girl will throw a tantrum. Don’t get me wrong, we try not to compare them and always try to be positive towards both of them. But to be honest, because the older girl is so negative and always in trouble recently, this is a lot harder.
AJealousy and rivalry between siblings is very common and a significant factor in many family conflicts particularly when one child is unhappy or “acting out” . Further, sibling rivalry can become particularly acute during adolescence when teenagers are trying to work out their individual identity, and what they stand for as distinct from other people in the family. At this time you may be also dealing with teenage rebellion as parents, which can make it a fraught time for everyone in the family.
Understanding sibling rivalry and competitiveness
At the heart of sibling rivalry is a fight for parents’ approval and attention. Children and teenagers frequently fear that their parents might approve or love one sibling more than another or that their parents’ approval is dependent on a certain quality or skill that their sibling might have more of. While, of course, as parents you strive to love each of your children equally and not to pit them against each other, much of the competitive pressure comes from outside the home.
The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.
Sibling rivalry can be inadvertently reinforced by parents’ reactions
Without meaning to, your reactions as a parent can reinforce sibling rivalry. For example, any time you praise your youngest in front of the eldest (particularly around exam achievement if this is a sensitive issue), this can make her feel more insecure and even believe that you favour the younger girl.
In addition, if during an argument you intervene on the side of one of your girls, this can leave the other feeling you favour her sister. This happens even when you intervene for a good reason such as when your eldest daughter might appear to be in the wrong or “acting up” and shouting at her sister.
Praise and encourage them equally and uniquely
To counter this you need to go out of your way to make sure you provide your two daughters not just with equal amounts of attention and encouragement but you want to avoid praise that somehow makes a comparison or implies a criticism of the other. As it is a sensitive issue, this might mean not praising your youngest for her education grades in front of the eldest for the moment.