My teenagers are fighting with each other

We are probably not used to living family life quite so intensely, with each other almost all the time at the moment. That may mean that tension rises and squabbles break out. Here are some tips from John Sharry of Parents Plus, on how to help teenagers deal with tensions and differences without fighting. This was written before we found our lives turned upside down by Corona Virus but there are a lot of good ideas in it which could be useful now.

My 16-year-old daughter has always been a strong character and a bit fiery, but recently she seems to be fighting with everyone. She is very competitive and always trying to pick fights, particularly with her younger sister who is a much more laid-back character. They are very close in age, just one year between them, and I think a lot of the conflict stems from jealousy. The younger has started to do well in school and our eldest is very competitive and puts her down.

It has got to a point where we can’t praise the youngest if she gets a good report or else the older girl will throw a tantrum. Don’t get me wrong, we try not to compare them and always try to be positive towards both of them. But to be honest, because the older girl is so negative and always in trouble recently, this is a lot harder.

Jealousy and rivalry between siblings are very common and a significant factor in many family conflicts particularly when one child is unhappy or “acting out”. Further, sibling rivalry can become particularly acute during adolescence when teenagers are trying to work out their individual identity, and what they stand for as distinct from other people in the family. At this time you may be also dealing with teenage rebellion as parents, which can make it a fraught time for everyone in the family.

Understanding sibling rivalry and competitiveness
At the heart of sibling rivalry is a fight for parents’ approval and attention. Children and teenagers frequently fear that their parents might approve or love one sibling more than another or that their parents’ approval is dependent on a certain quality or skill that their sibling might have more of. While, of course, as parents you strive to love each of your children

equally and not to pit them against each other, much of the competitive pressure comes from outside the home. The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

While, of course, as parents you strive to love each of your children equally and not to pit them against each other, much of the competitive pressure comes from outside the home. The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

Sibling rivalry can be inadvertently reinforced by parents’ reactions
Without meaning to, your reactions as a parent can reinforce sibling rivalry. For example, any time you praise your youngest in front of the eldest (particularly around exam achievement if this is a sensitive issue), this can make her feel more insecure and even believe that you favour the younger girl.

In addition, if during an argument you intervene on the side of one of your girls, this can leave the other feeling you favour her sister. This happens even when you intervene for a good reason such as when your eldest daughter might appear to be in the wrong or “acting up” and shouting at her sister.

Praise and encourage them equally and uniquely
To counter this you need to go out of your way to make sure you provide your two daughters not just with equal amounts of attention and encouragement but you want to avoid praise that somehow makes a comparison or implies a criticism of the other.

As it is a sensitive issue, this might mean not praising your youngest for her education grades in front of the eldest for the moment. Instead, you might want to emphasise more “non-comparable” qualities such as “doing your best” or “being proud of your hard work”. When praising the two of them you want to emphasise qualities that both girls can aspire to as well any shared strengths and interests that might bring them together.

It is also important to encourage each of their unique and individual qualities (eg one has a passion for music and the other for art) that allow them to appreciate each other differently without competition. You want each girl to find their niche and place in life.

Empower them to sort out their own disputes
It is important not to take sides in any disputes or rows they might have but rather to empower them to sort out these disputes themselves.

Your role is not to judge who is wrong but rather to be a mediator and to help them work out how to manage things. If you do need to intervene, try to address both of them – “Listen, let’s take a moment for both of you to calm down and talk this out.”

And if you do need to correct them, make sure you hold them both accountable at some level. For example, you might say to the eldest, “You should try to explain your point without shouting” and to the youngest, “You should listen to your sister without rolling your eyes.”

Help them empathise with each other
When talking to them individually about problems, never judge the other and always help them empathise with their sister. For example, you might explain privately to the youngest that her sister is sensitive to a big deal being made of exam results and explain to the oldest that her younger sister finds loud conflicts hard to deal with.

You want to communicate that you understand both of them individually and that you are on both their sides in sorting things out.

Take steps to support their relationship with each other
Do what you can to help them spend time together and to enjoy each other’s company. Simple things like sending them on a shopping trip together to buy something for the family or putting them on the same team in a family game could all help.

You could also help them learn to get on by setting them a task such as organising a family celebration or decorating a room together for which they might earn a collective treat or reward if they work as a team.

In the long term, once they become less competitive in seeking your approval and more secure in their relationship with each other, you would expect them to be able to enjoy the other’s successes and to become close, supportive sisters as they grow up.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper. John writes in The Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday. ‘Parenting Pre-Teens & Teenagers’ course with John Sharry Sunday 22nd October (9am-1pm) Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin, details here.

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Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
  • How to reduce the risks online
  • How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
  • How to educate children on cyber safety
  • How to set up parental controls on devices
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
  1. Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
  2. Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so  it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
  3. Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables.  For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
  4. Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
  5. Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
  6. Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
  7. Be social media savvy:  The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online.  Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
  8. Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
  9. Set a great example:  You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young.  Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
  10. Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like  webwise.ieinternetmatters.organd to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
        Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services.   Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5 Volume 6

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books ( and also on  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from

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