My Sister Is Driving Me Nuts! How to Deal With Sibling Rivalry

What to do when your brother or sister is your major source of drama.

From the WebMD Archives

Having a sister has its definite advantages. When you want to borrow a skirt to go with your new sweater, or gossip about this really cute guy at school, just head to her room. If you need to gripe about your Mom and Dad, she can totally relate. And honestly, who else in this world knows you better than your sister?

On the flip side, having a sister has some major disadvantages, too -- especially if she's the star athlete and straight-A student, while you trip over your own feet every time you run and can barely keep a C average.

Being jealous of your sister (or brother) is totally normal. It's called sibling rivalry, and just about everyone with a sibling has had to deal with it.

Here are a few of the reasons behind sibling rivalry, and what to do if your sister (or brother) is making you crazy.

Sibling Squabble 1: I'm Living in My Sibling's Shadow

Your sister has just brought home her umpteenth soccer trophy, which your parents have placed prominently in the living room case, right next to her cross-country, swimming, and gymnastics trophies. Every person who comes to visit is marched over to that trophy case so your parents can rave about how proud they are of their "little soccer star!"

Meanwhile, you feel invisible.

Whether your sister is stunningly beautiful, a perfect student, or a star athlete, she hogs the spotlight, while you disappear into the darkness of her shadow. You watch as she snags all the cute boys, the As, and the medals. And what do you get? Nada.

It's even worse when your parents constantly praise your sister or ask, "Why can't you be more like her?" That kind of needling can make you really hate your parents -- and hate your sister for being so perfect.

"That can be a real source of bad feelings between sisters," says Anthony E. Wolf, PhD, a child psychologist in Longmeadow, Mass., and author of Mom, Jason's Breathing on Me! The Solution to Sibling Bickering.

Living in your sister's shadow can make you feel awful about yourself -- so awful that you can even get depressed. "If they really take it to heart, it can affect their mood," says Peter Goldenthal, PhD, a psychologist practicing in the Philadelphia area. He also wrote a book about sibling issues, called Beyond Sibling Rivalry.

Continued

Sibling Squabble 2: She Gets All the Good Stuff

If you're fighting with your sister or brother, chances are it's because you're competing over possessions (like having to share the MP3 player or cell phone), territory (who's in control of the couch or TV remote), or attention.

All three of these things are in limited supply, and if you live in a house with siblings, you're always going to be fighting for your share of them.

Privileges are another issue, especially if there's an age difference between you and your sibling. Having to sit at home watching TV with your parents on a Friday night while your older sister gets to go out with her friends can seem really unfair. Seeing her get to drive or date before you can also be hard to take.

Sibling Squabble 3: We Just Can't Get Along

There's no polite way to say it: You HATE your sister. When you two are together, all you do is fight. She is a total (word that rhymes with witch).

Siblings fight for many reasons, one of which is different personalities. One sister might be quiet and shy, while the other is loud, bossy, and constantly craves attention. They're like oil and water -- they just don't mix.

A second reason siblings fight is age differences. Older kids naturally get more privileges, like having a later bedtime or being allowed to watch PG-13 movies. That can make their younger siblings really jealous -- which brings us to the third reason siblings fight. Jealousy. One sibling is almost always going to have something the other sibling wants -- whether it's clothes, a cell phone, or their parents' attention.

Believe it or not, one of the biggest reasons why siblings fight is that they're so comfortable with each other. "The person you feel safest allowing all your stress to come out at is your sibling," says Wolf. So when your sister has had a lousy day at school, who does she take it out on? You guessed it -- you. "They sort of become a punching bag for each other," he says.

Continued

What to Do When Sibling Rivalry Is Getting to You

If you're tired of living in your sibling's shadow or bickering all the time, or you're ticked that you're not getting an equal share of the resources and attention at home, the best thing to do is get your gripes out in the open. Talk it out with one or both of your parents.

When you do get ready to talk, time it right. Don't just run to your parents fuming over the latest nasty thing your sister said to you. Take some time to cool off first. "Talk when the issue is not happening at that moment," Goldenthal advises.

Also check that your parents are in the right frame of mind before you talk to them. "Not when they're super busy, not when they're tired," Goldenthal says. Prep them for the talk. "You want to say, I've got this problem I want to talk about. Is this an OK time?"

Explain the problem, but try not to yell at or blame your parents. If you storm into the room and scream, "You love her more than me!" you're not going to get anywhere. Calmly tell your parents how you feel in a nonjudgmental way. Say something like, "It really upsets me when you always tell me how smart Samantha is, but you never recognize how hard I work in school."

It might be that your parents don't realize they're treating your sibling differently than they treat you. Letting them know that it bothers you when they praise your sister or brother and criticize you might finally send them the message and make them stop doing it.

If your parents still don't get it, turn to another adult -- an aunt, coach, teacher, or guidance counselor who makes you feel good about yourself, Wolf suggests.

Have a Sister-to-Sister Talk

It can also help to go straight to the source of the conflict -- your sibling. When you're seething at your sister probably the last thing you want to do is talk to her, but sometimes it can feel good to get your problems out in the open.

Continued

When you do have the talk, be honest. "Say to the sister...'sometimes it makes me feel bad being in your shadow,'" Wolf says. Tell your sister that you love her and you don't want to fight anymore.

If you can be really mature and take that big step, you might find that your sister isn't at all like what you thought. Maybe she's not really stuck up. She might be just as insecure as you are. In fact, maybe she's only been mean because she's jealous of you. Telling her how you feel might change your whole relationship.

If talking it out with your parents or sibling doesn't work and you're really hurting, it's time to see a therapist or psychologist. They can give you tips to help you deal with your sibling squabbles.

Sibling Rivalry Doesn't Last Forever

As much as you might hate it, sibling rivalry is just a normal part of having a sister or brother. 

Living under the same roof with other kids is never fair. Not everyone is going to get an equal allowance or the same amount of TV time. An older sibling is almost always going to get more privileges. Inequality stinks, but you might just have to suck it up for a few years and deal with it.

Your relationships with your siblings might seem bleak right now, but they should get a lot better as you both get older. Believe it or not, a lot of sisters who absolutely hate each other when they're young grow up to be best friends.

Above all, don't let your self-esteem take a hit because of your siblings or parents. Remember that they don't make you special and unique -- you do. "It's important to know who you are, and not to let other people define you," Goldenthal says.

So your sister's a great athlete or has a gorgeous singing voice. So your brother's a brilliant student. You also have talents that make you special. Maybe you write amazing stories, or you're really good at yoga. Focus on your own successes, and you'll have less time to dwell on your siblings.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 06, 2011

Sources

SOURCES:

Peter Goldenthal, PhD, practicing psychologist in the Philadelphia area; author, Beyond Sibling Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Become Cooperative, Caring, and Compassionate.

Anthony E. Wolf, PhD, child psychologist in Longmeadow, Mass.; author, Mom, Jason's Breathing on Me! The Solution to Sibling Bickering.

North Dakota State University: "Living With Your Teenager."

Feinberg, M. Child Development, 2003; vol 74: pp 1261-1274.

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination