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Q. My 14-year-old son has always picked on his 12-year-old sister, but lately any comment sends her into tears. I want him to back off and her to lighten up.
A. When this happens in my family, I fantasize about running out of my front door until the whining stops. What I do instead is sit my two boys down and talk them through what needs to happen. Here's what I suggest you say to your kids: To the teasee, "One of the unfortunate realities of having a sibling is he knows exactly how to irritate you. Yes, your brother is being totally annoying and acting like he's desperate for your attention."
Now turn to the teaser. "Sam, while I can't control what comes out of your mouth I can help you decide if it's worth it. When you [name the behavior] to your sister, you violate our family's rules—which make it less likely that you'll get what you want from me in the future, like that baseball game you want to go to." Turn back to your daughter. "Calmly and specifically tell him what he's doing that you don't like and what you want him to do instead. If Sam's behavior doesn't change, tell me." To your son say, "Sam, if you continue, you're forcing me to give you consequences until you stop." Now to the two of them: "Are you both clear about my expectations? Great! Now, let's get on with the rest of our day."
Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.