Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Dealing with your sibling

September 9, 2015

Q.I hate my sister. She’s always up in my business. I’m two years older, and this year we’re in the same school building. This sucks. It’s like she has no friends of her own. She’s always hanging out with mine. When I decided to play an instrument, she decided to play one. When I tried out for cheerleading, all of a sudden she was practicing cheers all over the place. She likes the same bands as me. OK, well sometimes I do love her, but not in a “I volunteer for tribute” way. To top it all off, we share a room. Can you give me some ideas how to put up with her?

- Almost 14-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: Of course. Before I share some thoughts, however, I’d like to you do a simple exercise. Please fold a paper in half. On one side, write “things I like about my relationship with my sister”. On the other side, write “things I don’t like about my relationship with my sister.” Complete lists on both sides. Be honest. Dig deep. You don’t need to tell anyone what you’ve written

Now think about your lists. Turn the page over and remember how you felt two years ago, when you were 11 (almost 12). Do the exercise again. What did you like and dislike about your relationship two years ago? Have your feelings about your sister changed?

At 13, you’re discovering yourself. You’re reaching out and experiencing new things, like cheerleading and playing an instrument. Your friends are becoming more important. All of this is normal. You’re changing. Change is good, but can be stressful.

Your sister shadowing you is a compliment. I’m guessing her modeling your behavior isn’t new. Have you ever thought of yourself as her role model? She watches you, admires you, and may even wish she was more like you. When the two of you were 11 and 9, I doubt her copying you was as bothersome.

Trust me, in time you may change again. When you’re adults, you may want to be her best friend. You share a common bond of family. Friends will move in and out of your life, but siblings are forever. Here are some hints:

1. Talk with your sister honestly and respectfully: Be kind. Share your feelings and give her a chance to react. Listen to her. Ask her how she feels about going to a new school building. How did you feel when you experienced the move two years ago? Could she be anxious?

2. Set some boundaries: Sharing a room at your age can be challenging. Discuss mutually agreed upon spaces/times when you can have privacy.

3. Develop empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is an important part of being human. We’re born thinking only of what we want and need. We learn to think of others. An empathic person looks for connection. Practice empathy at home. Thinking of the needs of others is an important way to grow as a person.

4. Accept your own feelings: Tension between siblings is common. You’re not alone. It’s OK to feel anger. How you act on the anger is key.

5. Involve trusted adults: Have you shared your feelings with your parents or guardians? Involving your parents is smart. Studies show siblings with poor relationships as children often develop poor adult relationships unless parents provide guidance.

6. Use your sibling relationship to learn to communicate: Relationships can be challenging. The relationships we develop as children, with both friends and family members, are practice for more serious adult relationships. If you develop good communication skills when interacting with your sister, you will be ready to enter into a healthy dating relationship later.

At 14 you’ll be old enough to hang out at our Common Ground Teen Center. Your sister will be too young. The Teen Center could be a safe place where you can have privacy. In time you may even miss her! When she’s old enough for the center you may be ready to be the “big sister” and ask her to join you. Good luck.

Peer Educator response

Sure, sisters can get on your nerves. Brothers can, too. Getting away from sibs can help. You need some space. It sounds like she’s grasping onto you because you’re safe. She needs to develop her own friendships and her own interests, but right now she may need the security of following you around. That won’t last forever. Why not set some limits? There are times when you don’t need her around, and times when you can tolerate her presence. Give her a chance.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at



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