Dear Vicki: I have two teenage sons who used to get along well, but lately seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack, age 17, can come off like a know-it-all but, in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, especially in front of others, but he’s still young enough (14 years) to make poor choices. I think Jack is just trying to help him, but when he does, Timmy really blows up; he has a very quick temper. I know that siblings can fight, but I’m concerned because since we moved to a new city for my husband’s job a few months ago, they seem to be fighting more and more. I thought the boys would be excited by the move, but apparently not. Any suggestions on how to help them get along? Their constant squabbling over everything is getting unbearable. Signed, Battle Weary Mom
Dear Battle Weary: To paraphrase Shakespeare, the course of sibling love never did run smooth, at least all the time. Siblings are often each other’s first friends, but also sometimes, first enemies. In the case of your sons, I’m sure you know that some fighting and competition is natural, especially in two boys so close in age. But if it gets out of hand it can hurt them both, so let’s look at what might be going on between them and see what we can do to help.
I suspect there are two primary dynamics at play between Jack and Timmy and, unfortunately, neither works to Timmy’s advantage. First, Timmy is the youngest, so from that perspective Jack will always appear to have the “upper hand” as the older brother. Second, if we look at their individual elemental personalities, I suspect they relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model. In adults, Controlling Cycle relationships can take on a sense of support, but in children, it usually feels exactly like it sounds: controlling.
Based on your descriptions and the dynamic that has developed between the boys, I believe that Jack is a primary Metal personality. Metal people are usually very smart, know they are smart, and are very happy to share their wisdom with everyone. Stressed Metal personalities can become critical, controlling, and dismissive, and moving to a new city is stressful for people, whatever their age. For Metal personalities, letting go of things that matter is never easy, either, so a move to a new city will likely be especially hard on Jack. This may be partially why you are seeing his “know-it-all” behavior more with Timmy now. Metal people value control to keep their life stable. That sense of stability and control has gone out the window for Jack because of the move, so he is probably struggling some now and Timmy is bearing the brunt of it.