Girls will bicker. It’s inevitable. Many of your strategies for peacekeeping when your t(w)eens were small may prove woefully ineffective in this new era of vast growth and change. But some of your old methods just need a new spin to make them work again.
1) Create goodwill: help them make each other something special
One fantastic way to encourage good feelings in your family is to introduce the practice of gift-giving. When one daughter is occupied, perhaps spending time with your spouse, take aside the other to whip up a special surprise for her sister. This could range anywhere from a plate of pancakes for breakfast to a personalized birthday gift.
You may have employed this when they were younger, but it has its place with older children. All that is required is for you to tweak the nature of the gift. Instead of a macaroni art of the family, maybe a big sister shirtwould be more appropriate.
The benefits of this remain the same at any age. The helper gets the thrill of surprising her sister and the warm feelings of giving a loving gift. The receiver is given a pleasant surprise and the knowledge that the two of you made something especially for her. And you get quality mother-daughter time that will build memories and bonds for all of your family.
2) Reduce jealousy: involve them in each other’s accomplishments
It can be difficult for girls to deal with jealousy, particularly if they feel like they’re competing with their siblings. For a younger girl, it can feel like she is eternally in her big sister’s shadow. Many of her teachers will have had her elder sister in class before her and she likely inherited her sister’s hand-me-downs. For an older girl, her younger sibling can seem like the baby, coddled and protected. She might feel that she has to compete for your attention while enduring the trials of having a little sister. This can cause animosity between sisters that, left unchecked, can last for years.
Back in the day, when they were just littles, remedying this may have involved the simple act of sharing a toy. To curb this particular problem in t(w)eens, try to involve each girl in the other’s accomplishments.
This can be done in many ways. One of the most effective tactics is to have them work cooperatively towards a particular goal.
If one of your daughters has a test coming up, why not involve the other girl in helping them study? Do you have an artistic child? Try having her sibling give her constructive critiques. Do you have a basketball player? She can teach her sister how to free-throw. These exercises have the added bonus of teaching them study habits and supportive feedback while giving them a way to be included in the other’s successes. With your guidance, they can begin to form a partnership, dare I say alliance. With practice, they will see each other as a cohort instead of a threat.
3) Form or strengthen a family bond: encourage similar tastes and interests
There will come a day that your daughters will go on to live their own lives, possibly wildly different lives in different locations. If you have teenagers, this day might seem awfully close. If you have an eye on facilitating a healthy relationship between your girls when they become women, you may want to start encouraging similar tastes now. Maybe ten years ago it worked to put them both in toddler ballet, but you can’t very well expect them to put up with that kind of thing now. They’ve reached an age where they have their own ideas about how to spend their time and independent hobbies are important for growth. However, if you are observant, you may notice that they share similar tastes in music or style or even ballet (it worked!).
Perhaps they both enjoy sports or math or being outdoors. By gently encouraging their similar passions, you can give them a feeling of community with each other. To do this, first identify which interests you think they will share most readily.
If they are outdoorsy, plan a family camping trip. While out in the wild, give them a task that is theirs to share- collecting firewood is a good example- and tell them to reflect on how they feel while out in nature. Then, have them share these feelings over s’mores. If your girls are fashionistas, have a girl’s day of designing your dream dresses. Share your designs and come up with new ones that incorporate each of your individual styles. They can and will choose their own paths in many ways, now and in the future, but you can promote a common love that will strengthen their bond and sense of shared identity.
4) Deal with fighting: empathize and mediate
When things get tough between your kids, you can expect a fair amount of fighting. For toddlers and children, this may be a smack and some wailing. For t(w)eens, this could escalate to hair-pulling and venomous put-downs. Time out just won’t cut it anymore. Many parents feel the need to jump into these fights to prevent bloodshed. The most lasting communication habits, however, are best served by a mediator, not a referee.
When fights break out, be empathetic to the fact that the tween and teen age bracket is a tough one to live in. Social pressures at school and among friends can be very hard on young girls who are trying to find an independent identity. So when Mom steps in, a child shouldn’t have to worry about being judged or punished for their feelings. She can’t help her frustration with her sister any more than you can help your frustration with their fighting. Everyone has the right to their feelings, but you can set rules about how they act on them. As an authority in your home, you can put in place rules about incendiary or insulting language. As a nonjudgmental mediator, you can encourage your girls to study what it is that they’re experiencing and help them express that to their sister.
This can be tough because young girls in middle and high school spend a lot of time feeling vulnerable. Asking them to bare their emotions is a tall order. But your home should be a safe place where they can talk about their feelings openly, as long as they abide by the boundaries you set in place.
Also keep in mind that, even in a rebellious teen stage, your children will take cues from your behavior. If you lose your cool or are dismissive of their opinions, they will likely follow suit. Therefore, try to keep calm, yourself, and treat every problem and emotion as legitimate.
The storms of t(w)eenhood will pass, and as the years pass with them, you may even remember them fondly. Even though your daughters may never be the best of friends, you can help facilitate harmony between them with patience and a touch of cunning.