Parenting one child who is having a hard time adapting to life’s ups and downs is difficult as it is, but when a second child is added into the equation it can become a challenge to balance the needs of the struggling child while keeping the rest of your family emotionally stable. By the time children reach their teenage years, they spend about 11 hours per week with their siblings—that time can have a significant influence on behaviors and habits. Taking the time to step in as a parent is crucial for maintaining a well-functioning and healthy relationship with all of your children individually. These six tips can provide help for a troubled teen’s younger siblings who may be at risk of following in their brother or sister’s footsteps.
1. Address changes in routine directly
Changes will inevitably occur within the family’s everyday life when teens begin struggling. If these changes affect the routine, it can cause major confusion, especially in younger children whose emotional security is directly tied to that routine. Discussing what these changes are and what they mean for the child is key to ensuring the entire family maintains as much comfort as possible. Creating healthy conversation around these difficult changes will not only help your younger child process their emotions about the situation early on, but it will simultaneously encourage the sibling to communicate as they encounter new challenges.
2. Always attend to and support each child as much as possible
As more and more of your time is spent helping your troubled teen, feelings of isolation or rejection could wash over the teen’s brother or sister. Susan McHale, a Professor of Human Development at Penn State, states, “Siblings can influence one another by comparing ways their parents treat them. They see what kinds of privileges, discipline, attention, and time their mothers and fathers dedicate to them relative to their sisters and brothers.” If your entire life is changing for another child, but you fail to make the sibling’s important events a priority, it could lead to feelings of resentment or jealousy. Strive to stay as involved as possible with school events, clubs and sporting activities. It may seem counterintuitive to spend any time away from finding help for your troubled teen, but showing their sibling they are fully supported and valued is imperative to keep your family in balance.
3. Ensure the sibling has an outlet
Frustration isn’t just a part of a parent’s life; the children also deal with strong emotions of sadness and anger when they feel loss of control in their lives. For some children and teens, all they need is a physical outlet to quell these emotions. For others, therapy might be what allows them to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner. The process of finding how your child best deals with their emotions—and providing the opportunity to do so—is incredibly important to preventing them from following the same path as their troubled brother or sister.
4. Provide feedback about great behaviors
It’s easy to let frustration create an overly negative environment at home. Make frequent deposits into your child’s emotional bank to build them up and aid them in being more resilient to negativity. Letting your child know you appreciate their behavior when they do something well will reinforce the notion that the way to get your attention and love is through healthy communication, not by acting out.
5. Make time for a healthy family dinner
Any college students can tell you that nothing comes close to the comfort that comes with a warm home-cooked meal. Studies have shown that sitting down to regular family dinners reduces the risk of many different types of behavioral problems. If you create a routine that includes family healthful dinners you are equipping the entire family with the physical and mental stamina to deal with the turbulent world around them. Family dinners provide structure and safety for young kids and teens, while providing a safe place to discuss the struggles of everyday life.
6. Siblings are at higher risk—learn the signs and watch carefully
Siblings watch one another and learn from each other’s behaviors. When one child has behavioral issues the other will certainly be watching and learning every step of the way. A parent’s reaction to each child’s behavior will be the determining factor on whether the troubled teens sibling will mimic the bad behavior, or learn that their siblings behavior is not the way they should deal with the changing world. Understanding the many early signs of a teen who may need help and taking appropriate action at the first sign of trouble is key to ensuring that one child does not teach the other child unhealthy habits.
Pacific Quest has compiled a guide to help you understand what behavior might be normal as children grow and what behaviors might spark a more serious issue. Download our guide that provides help for troubled teens and continue to monitor their siblings to ensure you catch the signs early enough to easily guide everyone back to the right path.