Help Teens Build Better Relationships

In my last post, I shared an article I wrote about my client “Audrey” and her struggles with her sister “Nancy”. Audrey felt that Nancy was her parents’ favorite, and eventually the emotional pain became so intense that she used drugs to help her cope. Her parents made some changes and Audrey improved pretty quickly.

These changes included encouraging the girls to strengthen their relationship. In this entry, I’ll share some thoughts on what parents can do to help siblings with this.

When you notice there’s a problem bigger than the “Mom she’s wearing my shoes AGAIN” type of conflict, talk to each of them separately. Tell each what you’ve noticed them doing that’s hurting their relationship and suggest alternatives for treating the other. Expect each to get defensive and focus on the other’s behavior. When they do, tell them that you understand and gently remind each of them what you see them doing to their sibling.

If problems have been simmering for a long time, it’s likely you’ll have to bring the two together to talk. Be prepared to throw on your striped-shirt and whistle, because the conversation could quickly degrade into a finger-pointing, blame-game, where neither feels heard and both are frustrated. Guide them such that each of your teens has a chance to share how they’re feeling about what the other is doing. At the same time, encourage each to own-up to what they could do differently to improve their relationship. Make sure that each of your kids feels heard. Have each repeat back what they heard the other say, and keep asking questions until you’re satisfied that they both feel understood.

You can also encourage (which initially may feel more like forcing) your teens to spend time together outside the house, without other friends (and hopefully leaving their cell phones in their pockets!) Don’t worry what they’re doing (within reason) and what they’re discussing (as they’ll probably be complaining about you!)

They can also work on projects together around the house. Give them a budget and let them figure out what to do. (Don’t worry; you’ll still have final veto power!) Have them set a time-line for finishing, and send them on their way to get started.

Finally, encourage them to attend the other’s events. Even if one teen is a jock and the other paints and could care less about anything competitive, having them there for each other is hugely important. As their relationship grows, you’ll likely notice that they become each other’s biggest fans. The hope is that this will carry over into a lifelong friendship, in which they support each other through the inevitable challenges life will bring (including parenting their own teenagers!)

Be patient with yourself and them because things aren’t going to be perfect, and they’ll still fight. From time-to-time, you’ll still need to step-in and help them work through their conflicts. The hope, though, is that the work they put into strengthening their relationship during the good times will make it easier for them to solve their problems without as much drama and help from you.

One Response to Help Teens Build Better Relationships
  1. Betsy
    February 22, 2012 | 5:17 pm

    Very interesting, well written article…..Especially liked the part where siblings are encouraged to go to the other siblings activities………Loved the mother as coach comparison, complete with striped shirt.

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