Find a common activity to build relationship with little brother
Q: I'm a 17-year-old girl with two brothers, 13 and 10. My 13-year-old brother and I get along great, but I never seem to be able to connect with the youngest. Recently we got into another big fight, and the next day my mother told me he thinks I hate him. Apparently he has always felt that I like my other brother better and don't care about him at all.
He is a tough little kid with a great personality but he has a temper, and when he gets bored he lashes out at either me or my brother. It is hard to be patient with and affectionate to a person with an incredibly short fuse. I really do love my brother, but it is difficult for me to show him. How do I make this work? I don't want him to grow to hate me.
A: I'd be surprised if he grew to hate you. It does sound, though, as if he is already preoccupied with measuring himself relative to his siblings, instead of developing his sense of self from within.
Some of that is inevitable, especially among siblings, but deriving too much of his self-image from what his siblings do (or don't do) creates external motivation. That can give rise to adult traits that will complicate his relationships with everyone, not just you.
Insecurity, for example, is a common result of external motivation; you rely so heavily on others for your identity that you're consumed by what others think.
Blame is another common outcome. You base who you are on others — be it to get their approval, to annoy them (since negative attention is better than none at all), to compete with them — and so it's only natural that you also blame them when something goes wrong.
Sometimes people just sense their lives are missing something, because they are: They've made choices for reasons other than their own satisfaction.
Most of this is for your parents to address, and eventually for your brother himself to work through as he matures. And, too, you're not likely to be around the house much longer, and your absence will create a new dynamic, for better or worse.
Still, you're home now — and your brother holds you in high regard, or he wouldn't bother to provoke you. That means you can teach him a lot about himself just by your actions.
Since his fuse is a problem, get in the habit of saying, "Let's talk when you cool off," and stepping away calmly till he does.
And since the three-kid dynamic is a problem, make an effort to spend time with him one-on-one. It's such a simple fact that it's often overlooked: a common interest is the gateway to friendship. Especially with people who aren't able or don't want to say what they're feeling, just being side-by-side as you do something else lays the early foundation for trust. Think of little kids making friends over a sandcastle. Think of classmates and co-workers falling in love.
And think of a big sister with her spitfire brother, learning or playing or practicing or building something, just the two of them. Find an interest of his you can share, and, without fuss, start feeding it. Show him he's inherently worth your time.