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Fighting with brothers and sisters

Relationship; sibling; brother; sister; conflict; argue; fight; fighting; anger; angry;

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Guess who'll be the person you'll probably know the longest in your life? Yep, it's your sister or your brother.

  • You live together, play together, party together, eat together, laugh together and fight together.
  • Sisters and brothers can have terrific sharing relationships with each other, and be the closest of mates or friends.
  • On the other hand, sisters and brothers can infuriate each other at times.

Many things lead to arguments and fights between siblings, such as differences of opinion, misunderstandings, boredom, favouritism and manipulation.

  • Learning how to deal with conflict positively when you're young can set the scene for a positive relationship with your brother or sister for a long time to come, and help you learn to get along with other people outside the family.

Different opinions

Perhaps you live together, look alike, talk alike or have been taught the same things by your parents - but that doesn't mean you think alike.

  • You're still likely to have different opinions, talents and different ways of doing things. Expressing your differences is a way of expressing your individuality
  • Differences of opinion can be about the footy, music, movies, friends, etc. - so many different areas.
  • But differences can cause friction, arguments or conflict - especially when someone thinks that one view has to be 'right' and one 'wrong', or when talking about different views turns into putdowns or insults.

It's not all bad to have differences.

  • Expressing your opinion and listening to your brother's or sister's opinion can teach you new viewpoints, how to understand others and how to get along with all kinds of people. How you express your opinion is really important - check out the topic Assertiveness for some tips.
  • You don't have to agree with each other. It's OK to disagree and have different opinions.

Misunderstandings

  • Misunderstandings can occur when one person says something and the other understands it differently - this can lead to friction.
  • Talking calmly together can help to clear up the misunderstanding.

There's an old story about two people both wanting the last orange. They argue long and hard over who gets the orange. Finally, they really listen to each other. They find that one wants the orange for the juice to drink and the other wants the rind to flavour an orange cake. They share the orange and both get what they want in the end.

  • If you discuss things with each other in a calm way, you might find that what you want fits in OK with the other. Check out the topic Anger to learn more.

Favouritism

If there is a favourite in the family, there is often a lot more fighting between the siblings and it's harder to deal with.

  • If a sibling has a disability or illness, they might need extra attention - this can be hard for other brothers and sisters.
    • Siblings Australia is an organisation that can provide support when you are feeling stressed or finding it hard dealing with your brother or sister's special needs. You can get online support by joining their Teensibchat at this address:
      http://www.siblingsaustralia.org.au/forum/register.asp
  • The favoured brother or sister can feel guilty for being the favoured one, or sometimes looks down on the other.
  • The other brother or sister is likely to feel angry, resentful or jealous.

Is this happening for you? Can you talk to your parents about it?

  • Your parents may not even realise this is happening, so talk to them calmly, and not when you're feeling angry.
  • Say how you're feeling and why - give examples of some of the things that have happened.
  • Remember that parents don't treat each brother or sister exactly the same, because we're all different people.
  • If you've thought it out and talked to your parents and can't seem to get anywhere, perhaps you could try having a word to a counsellor to help you work it through. You may want to see a counsellor with your parent.

Boredom

Another starting point for conflict is boredom. Don't we all hate it? And what happens when brothers and sisters get bored?

  • It starts with a bit of picking and some teasing, perhaps calling each other names.
  • Next comes the creative art of being really annoying to get a good reaction – stuff like constantly flicking the TV channels over, or switching the TV off when the other is watching a program, or making repetitive noises that get inside your brother or sister's head and drive them crazy.

It's not fair

Other things that really annoy brothers and sisters are when one gets downright bossy, or borrows something without asking - especially if it gets broken. Or reads your diary, or cheats in a game, or when play fight turns into a real fight.

The list goes on, but the outcome is the same - friction builds up.

  • If your brother or sister does any of these things to you, you'd probably get annoyed, and might even want to stop them by hitting 'just to teach them', or yelling abuse or names back at them.
  • It's OK to say how you feel, and it's OK to say how angry you are. But it's not OK to abuse then by hitting or insults.
  • Try saying how you feel and what you'd like done about it, eg. "I feel really angry that you took my cassette player and broke it. What I would like is for you to get the cassette player fixed".
  • Leave it at that - don't get drawn into an argument. You've let them know you're angry and why, and what you want done about it.

Manipulation

Another cause of conflict is manipulation. This is when one tries to get the other person to do something that they really don't want to.

  • How many ways can you think of to get your brother or sister to do something for you? Let's see now, there's threatening to tell your parents about something, or threatening to hurt the other person, there's sulking, there's bossing, acting helpless or too sick, locking the other out, wrecking the other's things, yelling, bugging the other - and keeping at it until the other gives in.
  • Apart from being abusive, these things could lead to a build up of friction and to the other person retaliating.

Some better ways are:

  • to ask for a favour straight out (help, please?)
  • bargain - "I'll swap you the use of my CD player for the use of your bike on Saturday"
  • explain your position and ask for help - "I've got heaps of homework to do and I have to do the dishes - can you help me?"

If they want to help they will - if not, don't abuse them.

What's good about brothers and sisters?

Most of the time you don't stay mad for too long. You get over it pretty quickly because there are so many positive things to having a brother or sister.

  • friendship
  • loyalty
  • looking after each other
  • sharing fun times
  • sharing problems
  • knowing each other all your lives
  • belonging
  • being there for each other
  • laughter
  • games
  • secrets
  • shared memories
  • caring
  • learning from each other.

All those things are part of having brothers and sisters, and they can get better as you get older.

Keeping the peace

The first thing people need to live together successfully is to have some basic house rules that everyone follows.

  • Rules seem to work better when everyone in the house has a say about what rules should be included. They also work well when there aren't too many rules - you could end up with a law book if you go too far.
  • One rule that seems to works no matter where you are is 'being respectful to others'. This can cover a whole lot of positive things. It definitely excludes things like hitting or insulting another person.
  • Another rule that works well is 'respecting other's belongings'. This means asking before you borrow (or don't borrow at all) and looking after other people's things better than you do your own.

You and your brother or sister could sit down and work out a few rules for yourselves that suit you. If, after a while, the rules need changing, that's OK too, just as long as you change them together. Rules can help you to live together more peacefully.

Sorting out hassles

Sometimes there can be an on-going hassle with your brother or sister that never seems to get solved even after one or more of you have moved away from home. Learning how to talk things out can help you deal with those situations. Although it seems strange to think about learning to talk to your brother or sister, it's just about learning to talk to each other in a positive and respectful way.

When you deal positively with a situation, you actually feel better about yourself because you've acted more skilfully and have been a stronger person in your approach.

Here are some basic pointers to follow when trying to talk out a problem.

  • Listen openly to the other's point of view. This leads to understanding the other person. We all feel better if someone understands what is happening for us. And when we feel better, we're easier to get along with.
  • Be truly respectful to each other. Don't blame, criticise or accuse each other.
  • Speak calmly. If you're starting to heat up, take time out and come back to it later.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. If you've made a mess of things, think about how you can fix it up. It's OK to say sorry when you're wrong. All the best people do.
  • Stick to the issue at hand. Don't get sidetracked by other issues. Don't get sidetracked by picking on each other. If you get off the track, bring it back to the issue.

You could try using a 'conflict resolution model'. It's about working together as a team to sort out your hassles. There is more information in our topic on Conflict and negotiation.

Bec says:
"Living in a family is practice for living in the outside world. If you learn how to get along with others in your family, you are learning great skills for all the other relationships in life. You can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives, so work the hardest on keeping your family relationships going well and you will always have each other".

Resources

South Australia

  • Youth Health Service
  • Your school counsellor.
  • Your local community health centre (look in the telephone book).
  • Centacare (08) 8210 8200.
  • Relationships Australia (08) 8223 4144.

Australia

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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