Dear David Coleman: 'My older daughter is very jealous of her younger sister. We have to go for drives to escape the shouting'
Q I am a single parent and am at my wits' end with my 14-year-old daughter. She has been diagnosed with dyspraxia, which makes learning difficult. As a result, she feels inferior and jealous and takes her frustration out on her younger sister, who is capable and doing well in school.
At times I have taken my younger daughter for a drive just to get away from the shouting, banging of doors etc, but it just feels like I'm punishing her while the person who started the row is at home. My older girl is defensive and difficult to talk to about this issue; even counselling has made no difference. Any advice?
David replies: Parenting teenagers can be fraught with difficulty. Teenagers are both pushing for their independence (often in direct opposition to their parents), and they experience their emotions at a more intense and extreme level. So, they often appear furious rather than just angry, or distraught, rather than just sad.
If it is the case that your older daughter experiences jealousy with regard to her sister, then that jealousy may be all-consuming, in a way that it never was when she herself was younger. Also, the additional pressure of secondary school and the workload that it entails may have further underlined, for her, the academic challenges she faces due to her dyspraxia (a developmental disorder of the brain in childhood causing difficulty in activities requiring coordination and movement).
This may be intensifying her distress, disappointment or feelings of low self-worth. Moreover, her real envy may be about her peers - who find school easier than she does - and not her sister.
Of course, there may be sibling rivalry between the girls, irrespective of their learning abilities, but if there is a clear difference in capability, then I am sure it must be very hard for your older girl. There is a certain status that comes with being the oldest, and that status is easily usurped if a younger sibling achieves more, or seems more talented or capable in any area. That is a very hard dynamic for your older girl to manage.
You don't describe how you respond to your older girl, but I do think that for her to process the inferiority that you think she may feel, or the jealousy that she may feel, she will need lots of understanding and support from you. While it is never OK for her to take out her frustrations on her little sister, you will only create greater division between them by getting cross with your older daughter, or appearing over-protective of your younger child.
For sure, any behaviour that is hurtful, or damaging, towards her younger sister does need to be corrected.
But correction doesn't necessarily require punishment. An appropriate consequence may be to make things right with her younger sister after a row.
Perhaps if you can show your older daughter a lot of understanding, using empathy, she will then be able to hear your correction and your appeals to not take out her anger on her sister.
Phrases you might like to use are "I think you find school really hard, you may often feel like you don't match up to the other girls and boys in your class". "I wonder if you sometimes compare yourself negatively to your friends; it might be really frustrating if they find homework and schoolwork easier than you do".
You'll notice that the empathetic statements I'm suggesting refer to potential comparisons she makes with her peers, as this is the bit that might really bother her. When you can show your daughter, in this way, that you might get her point of view, and might be able to really understand her, I think you will find it much easier to help her find ways of dealing the strong feelings that emerge, without simply taking them out on her sister.
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