My little brother is driving me madder
May 17, 2015 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Hi, for the past week my little brother has been get on my nerves so much. And it's been getting worse and worse. If we play around, he doesn't know when to stop and has to get yelled at by out parents. He just turned 12 and I'm 20. I'm getting sick of this, and our parents are telling us to work it out ourselves. But it doesn't work.

Every time when we're alone, he eventually ends up starting to bother me and I get so overwhelmed. And then he ends up insulting me, saying things like you're so sensitive, you don't know how to take a joke..
We haven't ever had the best relationship but I don't want this to continue as we get older. If I try to ignore him, he does things like snapping his fingers near me or making loud noises, which I've recently become really sensitive to. I've tried telling him why he bothers me and that I feel like he doesn't respect me. He's being such an asshoe now... and I feel like he hates me for reason. When he acts up, saying that I'll talk to our parents doesn't have effect. They'll talk to him and then the next day it'll start again. Or like lately, they don't get involved. I try so hard to be nice to him and spend time with him, but I just can't deal with it. He's acting like a heartless monster to me. He has problems academically fyi, and he has a hard time listening to my parents.

I have other family problems, and all of them together are making me vaguely suicidal (but I don't want to kill myself). It's that bad. Yes, I'm doing therapy and medication.
posted by starlybri to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Try cutting down on spending time with him. My sister and I went through a period where we barely talked at all when we lived with our parents as teenagers, and now we are very close, so you aren't necessarily dooming your relationship. It doesn't sound like you're really having very much quality time with him right now.

Another possibility is to hang out more, but away from the house, if he doesn't act like this in public. Go on walks or go to the movies or the park or anything, and do your bonding there.
posted by umwhat at 2:21 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


You're 20 years old and a great deal of your stress stems from your family. Are you living with them? It sounds like you're still living at home. What steps can you take to move out? Start making a concrete plan to get out on your own. That should be your goal #1. Protect your own sanity by finding yourself your own place. If that's impossible right now, just get out of the house as much as possible. Find a job, or a second job, or volunteer, or just go to the library every morning and stay there until it closes. Minimize the amount of time you spend in the company of people who stress you out.

I wish I could help you out specifically on the brother front, but my brother was a complete ass as a kid. We're much closer in age than the two of you, but he was really and truly awful, and bigger than me starting when he was about 11 years old. He didn't get better until he grew up, something he had to do on his own time that no one could force. (And now we're best friends.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


He wants attention.

Turn to him and say, "You have my full attention for the next 10 minutes. Go."
posted by mochapickle at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Then when the 10 minutes are up, give him a big hug. He will only be this little once.)
posted by mochapickle at 2:27 PM on May 17, 2015


Turn to him and say, "You have my full attention for the next 10 minutes. Go."

This led to me getting a fart directly in my mouth.
posted by phunniemee at 2:30 PM on May 17, 2015 [30 favorites]


A) Stay away from him as much as possible.
B) React as little as possible to what he's doing. A reaction is exactly what he's looking for.
posted by cecic at 2:36 PM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Phunniemee, I want to move out but I don't have a job and I'm a full time student. I'm looking for a summer job though, so hopefully I'll get one.
posted by starlybri at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2015


Can you take him out somewhere or even better set up a repeating outing/activity that's just for the two of you? I'm trying to remember being 12, with a sister 8 years older. I bugged her all the time, but I thought she was TOTALLY THE AWESOME. She thought I was a nuisance of course, and not as cute as our 5 year old sister, who she would hang out with moderately incessantly.

If she had taken me out for a movie or roller blading or to the museum even, I would have thought that was pretty cool. And if I knew that being a pest meant I could lose those outings, I would have stopped pretty darn quick. Doesn't have to be out, I think I would have gotten the same value from baking together or decorating a room or gardening ... whatever floats your respective boats.

I mean, he's your little brother and you're an adult. I'm not saying it's going to change your world, but you could just try taking the perspective that he has a personality and a point of view and it's your chance to get to know him. If you miss it, you might miss it forever.
posted by yogalemon at 2:39 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Turn to him and say, "You have my full attention for the next 10 minutes. Go."

This led to me getting a fart directly in my mouth.


OK, then do what my mother used to do when I was 12 and unruly. She would say, "Do you need attention?" And when I would say yes, she would pinch my nose from arm's length and say, "Let me know when you've had enough attention." And then I would nod my head bashfully after like 30 seconds and I was good to go. It really worked. (30 years later, it still does.)
posted by mochapickle at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


Yogalemon, I do things with him sometimes. But after a while, even if I'm being nice to him, my brother starts getting bratty, and by the time we come home, I never want to take him anywhere again. It happened yesterday. And I've told him I won't take him out if he acts up, and it seems like he doesn't care.
posted by starlybri at 2:51 PM on May 17, 2015


I've told him I won't take him out if he acts up, and it seems like he doesn't care.

Then stop taking him out, and avoid him as much as you can. As has already been suggested, spend as much time away from home as possible. When school is in session, study at the school library, not at home. Can you lock your bedroom door? Then do that, when you're home.

I don't really think this is mean. My sister is ten years older than I am, and I really looked up to her when I was 12. Like you, she lived at home when she was going to school. But I don't recall spending much time with her, and I wasn't hurt, because I didn't expect it. I mean, she was ten years older than I was, and had a busy life of her own.

In short, although it might be nice if you spent time with your brother, if you got along, I don't see it as necessary. There's a huge age gap. He should have his own friends, and you should feel free to have your own 20-year-old life without having to deal with a (in your case, bratty) 12-year-old.

Just live your life, be polite to your brother, but don't feel you have to be overly involved in his life. You may end up as close friends when you are both adults, but for now, try to minimize the contact and the conflict.
posted by merejane at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


If he tells you that you're too sensitive for reacting to things that he purposely does to annoy you then tell him he's a little jerk and leave the room.

Also, you might try making sure he's well fed before you try taking him anywhere. My 10yo is a monster if she doesn't eat. (And you can't ask her, you just have to put the food in front of her and back slowly away.)
posted by dawkins_7 at 3:48 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


You're not old enough to be parental towards a twelve-year-old, but you're too old to be a peer. You can't expect him to act what you consider to be reasonable, because reasonable for you is acting like a twenty-year-old. You just have to live with him being twelve until he's no longer twelve. He doesn't hate you, he just isn't mature enough to have better ways of dealing with this awkwardness. For the moment, it falls on you. Learn to live with the awkwardness and step away when you need to. It'll almost certainly smooth out when your relative age difference stops seeming so huge and he's old enough to have a comparable level of emotional maturity to yours.
posted by Sequence at 3:54 PM on May 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


My daughter is a month away from being 15 and my son turned 8 a month ago so we have this dynamic in our house quite a bit. Something I tell her quite a bit.... "He won't have a show if he doesn't have an audience. " it's hard to put into practice but try. Only give attention when he's being sweet.
posted by pearlybob at 4:01 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Great answers everyone. I really appreciate it! I'll definitely try the suggestions out.
posted by starlybri at 4:12 PM on May 17, 2015


I went through something similar back when I was growing up. Appears to me like your parents baby your brother so he can get away with a lot.

What worked for me was that I just started to spent as much time away from home as humanly possible. Some days I didn't come home at all. My parents started missing me a lot because they thought they were losing the last bit of time they had left with me in their home so they finally started putting their foot down on the little tyrant.

I'm not sure if your parents will react the same way, but even if they don't the time away from your little brother and home will mean not only less stress, but potentially a better social life as well as after a few weeks you'll start to get to know more people that you never would've met had you been home.
posted by rancher at 5:20 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think your brother is playing a game called "Get a Reaction from Starlybri". This is a game that many kids like to play, especially when bored. (This is why long car trips are so challenging). The rules are simple - he does something annoying and the more response he can elicit from you, the higher the score. I don't know his personal scoring system but it might look something like this:
Make some annoying noises and if Starlybri:
does nothing - 0 points, keep trying
puts on headphone or quietly leaves the room: 2 points
says "shut up": 5 points
says "shut up &*(&": 10 points
calls for parents: 15
does something that will get Starlybri in trouble: 50 points

You can see that staying very calm and refusing to play makes the game less fun. The only problem is that when you first start to refuse to play, he will think that he just needs to try harder and in the beginning, the more you ignore him, the harder he will try. (This is called "extinction burst") but if you can wait it out, he will give up. On the other hand, if you wait longer but then reward him with a big outburst, it will just encourage him to keep trying so if you are going to respond to it sooner while you are still calm.
posted by metahawk at 5:44 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you have the energy, making it so that you are good for other sources of fun and positive attention might be worth trying. (Although I totally understand if you don't have the energy to do this)

For example, you might offer to do something with him every week that is fun for both of you, like go to a comic book store, with the understand that if he starts to get obnoxious during the trip, you will give him one warning and then end it. "Sorry, its not fun shopping with you when you do that. We are going home now. Maybe next week it will be more fun" I wouldn't make the trip a reward for good behavior during the week (that's too parental for my taste, although you can if you want to) but just say that the trip is for fun and when it stops being fun, you stop.

A great book with lot more ideas on how use the theories of behavioral conditioning on real humans is Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.
posted by metahawk at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


You're in an awkward limbo, where you're a young adult but you just left your teens and you're living at home. As somebody pointed out above, you're not a parent or a peer. In your brother's eyes you're probably kind of a bigger kid who gets to do all the grownup stuff like driving and staying up late. Mixed in with that, your brother may fear losing you soon to grownup-land. He's a kid, and kids are wild little beasts who don't know themselves very well.

I don't know if this is a great idea, but it's what comes to mind. Maybe consider being the grownup, for real. Become an authority figure, and punish him when he misbehaves. Don't be a peer, at all. Don't plead or try to reason. Act like you know you're right and he is being an idiot. Remember, you are much bigger than he is. He sure isn't forgetting it.

Now, I'm not saying to bully the kid. Reward him when he behaves. Try to make things more pleasant between you, however you can. Try to have fun with him, the way an adult has fun with a kid. But when he is being a brat, shut him down. Never hit, but scare him a little. Make rules. Be strict.

I get the feeling today's kids are coddled a bit. People talk about how their kid "won't eat" anything but McNuggets, and I think about how my mom would've shut that shit down fast. When kids are being brats, they need to be called on it. If your parents aren't doing it, you may have to.

I'm sorry you're going through a tough time. Please don't contemplate suicide. Being young and healthy is such a gift. Oh, bubbeleh, you just don't know. When you're not being an authority figure for your brother, go be a carefree youth. Go out dancing, go to museums, go see weird movies. You're young! Live it up! Get a weird haircut and go driving while you blast glorious, stupid music. Living it up is a big kick! It's good for you!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:26 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dissenting voice here:

Your brother is challenging your dominance. He has learned, probably because your parents took his side, that the ordinary dominance situation is upside down. The bigger stronger brother is the weaker one. He can do stuff to you that he knows is bad and you don't stop him and your parents don't stop him. Part of why he keeps doing mean stuff to you is because the situation doesn't make sense. If you were severely handicapped your parents would have taken him aside and told him that they expected him to treat you decently because he was the stronger one and he probably would have stopped (depending on how sadistic he is) because he would have understood the situation. There would have been a clear hierarchy with him on the top of it. But the way it stands he doesn't understand why you don't simply backhand him every time he torments you.

You, of course, understand very well that you can't backhand him. But you can get physical with him.

The next time your little brother gets in your face and is deliberately aggravating, grab him, flip him casually to the floor and sit on him. Ideally this should be done in such a way that it is uncomfortable for him so that he goes ow or oof. To ensure that you can do this reasonably smoothly and well within your control look up some judo moves on line or from the library and practice them with a friend outside out the house.

If you want to up the intensity begin by calmly standing up and moving the furniture out of the way so that you can flip him onto a bed or a carpet without tangling with the chairs or the escritoire.

After that every time he passes a certain line, do it again, grab him, flip him off his feet and squish him. Physically dominate him. Don't show anger - it's difficult to do safely if you are angry so try and do it before you become angry. Don't hit. Just squish him.

Your moving the furniture will be the signal that you are protecting him and your parents property and that he is about to get well and truly manhandled.

Ideally your brother will complain to you about you doing this in order to see if he can verbally make you back off and stop it and you will reply that he is too sensitive. When your brother tells you that you are too sensitive he is telling you that you have accepted the subordinate position so your complaint is unjustified. Similarly, since he is triggering the squishing it is inappropriate for him to complain that you are mean. If he doesn't want you to squish him he can stop being a bug.

If your parents tell you that getting physical is inappropriate grin and tell them that you will be careful not to damage the furniture. It goes without saying that you will not damage the little brother. It is indeed appropriate for two siblings to play wrestle, which is what you are doing.

Ideally you and your brother will get into play wrestling on a regular basis, during which you will demonstrate that although you could hurt him, but you love him, so you don't and your strength will be used for protecting him. Chances are your brother is very physical and wants tactile and deep pressure contact. Wrestling is a way to show him affection and interact with him. He is acting out because he wants high intensity stimulation and boundaries.

When someone is "just trying to get attention" they are not initially being bad. They are expressing a need. When the need is ignored they may start to cross a line so that they are deliberately being bad.

Noogies are also appropriate as are other affectionate play torture such as minor tickling or blowing fart noises on his neck.

Ideally you want a dyad going where you and your brother are allies, doing a fun activity together. You both should enjoy this process. It is also a deep pressure hug for a sensory seeking youth, as well as physical training and acknowledgement.

Your parents are giving you permission to do this by telling you to settle it yourself, although of course they may react by being deeply shocked and condemnatory that you would 'hurt" your little brother. But they have given up trying to control him in absentia, and rightly so, since it is time that your little brother learn to control himself. Your job is to give him the training so that he can do so.

It is also possible that something is bugging your brother so he is lashing out at you in a bid for attention because something is very wrong in his life. He may be acting genuinely sadistic because he is displacing major anger and anxiety onto you that originates in some other sphere of his life. Getting closer to him is the best way to uncover this, and again, wrestling is a means of getting closer and showing affection.

You might also try showing your dominance over him in other ways such as intervening on his behalf with your parents, or by demonstrating your superior abilities at some skill that he will value, for example by gaming with him and being the better player on a joint raiding team in World of Warcraft.

Another thing you can do is to take your brother outside with you and make him exercise hard and work out until he is out of breath. It is not healthy for a youth on the edge of adolescence to be stuck in a house all the time. He might well be better behaved if he gets a couple of hours of strenuous activity, and he might even be willing to allow you a commensurate couple of hours to do your studying, unharrassed, if he is not aching to move and see something interesting happen.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:42 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


12 and 20 are both times of huge changes. Hormonal, physical, mental, world view expanding, responsibility changing... in a sense, both are about leaving phases of childhood behind. That can be hard and scary, and people on the verge of changing often waver between the new, more adult them and retreat back to the more childish behavior. If your family stresses you, at 20, they also likely stress him at 12 just as much, but he has less coping skills, because he has less experience.

The posters above have more practical advice on day to day living with him, but patience and understanding, despite it taxing your limited reserves of energy, might go a long way. With a healthy dose of boundaries, of course.
posted by Jacen at 11:02 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you choose to do what Ursula Hitler suggests (ie be an authority figure and punish/reward), make sure that your parents know you're going to be doing this. The worst thing you could do is issue a punishment like taking away a toy/game and have your parents reverse your ruling.
posted by cobain_angel at 11:58 AM on May 18, 2015


Honestly he just sounds like a 12 year old boy trying to get a reaction from his sister. Making you mad and therefore getting your attention is the game.

My brother and I had this dynamic pretty much the whole time we were growing up (though I was younger and we were only 4 years apart). There was never much to be done for it except wait for him to grow out of it and try not to get too worked up over anything - since that's funny to him and what he's going for.

Honestly if it's possible, I agree with the people who advocate just spending less time around him. I think you'd both be better off hanging around people closer to your own ages. Even though we were close as kids, my brother and I couldn't stand being around each other as teens/very young adults. It got better around mid-20s or so and now we're more like peers again.
posted by Kimmalah at 12:46 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Starlybri, I didn't get that you were a woman. (I must have skimmed past your name!) I read over my post, trying to see if there was anything that would change, and I'm pleased to say I think my advice holds! But the difference in your genders does add another twist to the dynamic. A 12-year-old boy can be weird about women. He is probably not idolizing you, because to a 12-year-old boy a 20-year-old woman is probably very "other". He is less likely to be afraid of you, because you are "just a girl". (I keep saying probably and likely because these are not universals of 12-year-old boys. But they are common enough to consider.)

A 12-year-old boy can be a real piece of work. He's right on the cusp between a boy and a young man, and he may combine the worst of both. But my original advice holds. If you are the adult, if you take control, your gender doesn't matter.

Cobain_angel is quite right, that you should talk this over with your folks to make sure you're on the same page. But even if your parents refuse you on this, you can still punish him other ways. Lock him out of the room. Lock yourself someplace so you can get away from him. Stop doing the things he likes. Let your anger out. Be big.

With respect to Jane Brown, I really don't think wrestling him or sitting on him is a good idea. Especially now that I know you are brother and sister. Without going into squirmy detail... it's the kind of physical contact I don't think a little boy should have with a grown woman. It could do weird things to his head. (I know, ew. But the idea had been put out there, and I felt like I had to try and put the kibosh on it.)

If all else fails, you may just have to kind of reject him until he learns to behave. Shut the door in his face, snarl and snap. Treat him like an annoyance, and nothing but. Eventually he'll be hurt enough that he'll probably get the message and he'll grow up a little. But I sure hope it doesn't come to that. No matter what kind of complicated, sadistic, confusing bullshit is going through his head, he still probably loves you.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:59 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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