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Siblings are Both to Blame for Fighting

Question

Our 13-year-old, soon to be 14-year-old, son teases his 9-year-old sister to no end. It causes our family a lot of strife. He teases her, she yells, lashes out, and then cries. I usually punish them both by separating them for a period of time. However, in all honesty, our son sets the tone and has driven the downhill spiral of the relationship. She used to adore him and forgives him quite easily. It's heartbreaking to watch, because she is so sweet-natured. We are extremely frustrated, and I am ready to remove everything from our son's room and have him work on his relationship with his sister to get things back. However, I am worried it will just breed more contempt. Any suggestions?

Answer

Thank you for writing. He may be the primary instigator, but they are actually both to blame because she is engaging with him when he starts to tease. Yelling and lashing and out doesn't make her blameless. So, that said, the solution is simple. Let both of them know that when this happens again, they will be sent to their rooms (or to a very boring room, such as the laundry room or the guest bathroom) for several hours, at which time you do not want to hear from either of them. If their rooms seem to be "fun" places for them, remove whatever the fun items are until their relationship improves. They will both learn a valuable lesson. Your son will learn that it doesn't pay to pick on his sister, and your daughter will learn that she has a choice about engaging with him when he starts up. After all, if she never responded in any way, it wouldn't be so much fun for him to pick on her, right? Punishing only him will, in fact, breed contempt in this situation because it's not one-sided. Be firm, unemotional, and consistent, and this problem will be resolved.

Good luck!

Laura E. Gray, PhD, CLPC
www.oneanddonecoaching.com

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