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By Selena Stevens

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"Adolescents will be head-on at each other occasionally no matter what you do.  It's worse if you have two boys or two girls.  A boy and a girl generally get along better together."

--Family expert Gladys Hildreth

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Jan. 25, 2001 – (Lexington, Ky.) – They’re at it again. This time the argument is over a toy, a shirt, a funny look. No matter how close they seem, it appears your children are always fighting. Have you done something wrong?

No, said family expert Gladys Hildreth. You’re just experiencing the all-natural and unavoidable sibling rivalry.

“Adolescents will be head-on at each other occasionally no matter what you do,” said Hildreth, professor of family studies and chairperson of the family studies department at the University of Kentucky. “It’s worse if you have two boys or two girls. A boy and a girl generally get along better together.”

Hildreth said personalities and developing egos play a big part in sibling rivalry, as does the need for attention from parents.

“Parents need to sit down with each child and discuss their roles in the family,” she said. “That discussion is very important to help children to understand their role in the family and to let them feel more secure and loved and part of the family.”

Hildreth said even rivalries that have progressed beyond the occasional fight to constant battle and snide remarks can be turned around. Underneath everything, the children are still siblings, and that is an indelible bond.

“It can be a huge task that requires help from the whole family,” she said. “But if it means something to you, you can do it.”

Often the cause of the rivalry may not be within the children, but within their aunts and uncles, Hildreth said. Children, especially teens, model their relationships after those they see most often – those within their families. If the family’s adults can’t get along, often the children will be unable to get along also. To fix the children’s problem, parents may have to face their own.

“Many times we are reluctant to think we may be the problem,” Hildreth said. “But usually we are too close to the situation to really see what is going on.”

In such situations, Hildreth suggested bringing in a third party to help everyone wade out of trouble. While it can be hard sometimes to share troubles with someone else, the outside person will have a more objective and clear approach to the problem and some solutions, she said. A respected therapist, a family minister or even a trusted friend can serve as that third party.

“Just choose help that has been proven to other people, and let it work,” she said.

Whether the rival requires a simple family discussion or meetings with a therapist, Hildreth noted that the key to improving the situation is communication.

“Regardless of the situation or the type of parenting used, good communication is healthy for everyone.”

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