Good relationships with brothers and sisters

Your brothers and sisters are biologically the closest people to you. Often they become the people closest to you in adult life but this does not necessarily mean you will get on well during your teenage years.

If they are close in age as well, you will be going through many of the same things at the same time. This can be helpful (you can learn from each other’s experience), but it can also be hard having two or more people living close to each other when they are both struggling with hormones, trying to develop their own identity and working out how they fit into the world.

These are some of the main issues you are likely to meet, with suggestions on making them better.

Feeling as though you’re in a competition

It is a human instinct to compare, and you generally have plenty of time and opportunity to compare yourself with your brothers and sisters. This is not helped if your parents, schoolteachers or other people are always making comparisons as well.

This can be particularly hard if your brother or sister seems cleverer/sportier/more popular/better-looking than you. You can feel like a failure by comparison.

If this is getting you down, try :

  • explaining how you feel to your brother/sister. Generally they won’t want you to be unhappy, and might have some useful suggestions for handling your parents and others. You may even be surprised at how they compare themselves with you.
  • explaining how you feel to the rest of the family. Again, they generally won’t want you to be unhappy, and may not realise that they are making these comparisons all the time.
  • thinking of all the things you’re good at, or like about yourself. It is unlikely that your brother or sister is better or more successful than you in every single way.
  • ignoring unhelpful comparisons from people you don’t really care about, such as thoughtless teachers.

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Feeling that your parent or parents has a favourite

Many people think that their parent has a favourite child, even when they themselves are adults.

Sometimes parents seem harsher on children who are not like them; this can be particularly hard when parents split up and a child reminds one parent too much of the other. Sometimes parents seem to want their children to be in a particular ‘mould’ (sporty/clever/quiet) and are hard on the children who don’t fit that mould.

More often than not, though, your parents don’t in fact have a favourite and would be horrified at the suggestion that they do. So, if this is getting you down, try:

  • explaining how you feel to your parent/s. They may surprise you (see above). They may also change aspects of their behaviour if they realise that they have unconsciously been favouring one child over another. Don’t forget – your parents, generally, love you and want you to be happy; it’s just that people sometimes get into patterns of behaviour.
  • explaining why you think particular rules or situations are unfair. There may be a good reason for the different treatment. If not, your parent/s might change.

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Just not liking your brother or sister very much

This is perfectly normal when you’re a teenager; many teenagers are not particularly likeable quite a bit of the time. Your brother/sister may be suffering from hormonal mood-swings or their own problems with friends or school. They may be trying to develop their own personality and experimenting with different behaviours.

Try:

  • avoiding too much time with them. Even if you have to share a room, do your best to give them space. Concentrate on having your own life and let them have theirs.
  • remembering that people do change. Even if your brother/sister is horrible at the moment, they may turn into a lovely adult.

But:

If their behaviour goes beyond unpleasantness, and makes you feel miserable, bullied or threatened, tell your parents. And if this does not work, for whatever reason – see When things go very wrong below.

 

When a brother or sister has special needs

Even if you’re not a carer, it can be quite difficult if you have a brother or sister with special needs. It can put pressure on your parents (so they have less time for you, and may be more tired than they would otherwise be) and make you feel that you’re not allowed to be normally irresponsible or badly behaved, as your family has enough to cope with.

Try:

  • explaining how you feel to your parents. Try to pick a time when they’re not too tired or distracted. See if you can work something out
  • making sure that you do some nice things just for yourself, without your brother/sister; you will then appreciate them more when you do so
  • making sure that you and your parents get as much practical support as you can, from your local council, through healthcare and benefits, and from any relevant charities.

When things go very wrong

If you have real issues with your brothers or sisters and it is not something that can be sorted out by your parents, try:

  • talking to a trained counsellor. Childline, a charity linked up with the NSPCC, has counsellors available on their helpline who can help you with all sorts of issues. Relate specialises in sorting out family relationships; they offer a free live chat for young people, and you may then be able to get counselling face-to-face.

 

You might also be interested in our pages on:

Get on with your family
Good relationships with your parents
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Good relationships in step-families
Get the help you need
Young carers