Hello, Conscious Parent! Welcome to “Dear Katherine,” a monthly Q&A with real-life parents/caregivers. If you’d like to submit a question of your own, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My two girls, aged 8 and 11, won’t stop fighting! It’s like they’re in competition for everything: who gets the bigger piece of pie, who can finish their homework fastest, even who gets to take a shower first! I know sibling rivalry is normal, but I just want them to stop squabbling. Can you help me?
— Looking for Peace of Mind
Dear Looking for Peace of Mind,
You’re definitely not alone. Siblings have always butted heads—and they probably always will. Even the Bible features a well-known story about a boy named Joseph whose 11 older brothers sold him into slavery after their father gifted him with a multicolored coat. Talk about green with envy!
The rivalry your girls are experiencing is completely normal (and thankfully less dramatic than Joseph’s), but I certainly understand your plea to stop the squabbling. First, it’s important to realize that sibling competition is rooted in a fight for parental attention. Simply put, your kids are vying to be #1 in your eyes. A lot of times we can make it worse if we pick to take one child’s side leaving the other feeling like they weren’t understood. The key here is to be the mediator between them, helping them see each other’s sides but not taking one of our own.
As parents and caregivers, of course, we love our children equally. The hard part is determining how to interact with them according to their unique personalities and needs. If our kids are “belongers” who don’t want to risk your disapproval it can be easier to be with them than our autonomous kids who are so self-directed and do risk our disapproval! To the autonomous child, it can feel like you favor the other. In turn, this can make the acting out even more severe. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy “see, you always take her side,” “see, you do love her more than me”.
How do you show your daughters that they’re special to you, each in their own way?
- Celebrate uniqueness. Children need to know that they have distinctive gifts as individuals. Encourage your daughters to hone and develop their hobbies and interests. If one loves to sing and the other plays the piano, why not stage a duet? Find ways to demonstrate that their individuality contributes to a richer family life.
- Teach effective communication. When a fight erupts, give your children space to calm down. Once they’re ready, bring them together to discuss what triggered the conflict. Was one sister hurt that the other didn’t want to share a favorite toy? Does the little one feel insecure seeing her older sibling do things without supervision? Teaching your daughters loving and open communication will foster a better mutual understanding so they can respond to each other with empathy.
- Create moments for bonding. Life is busy, but in the midst of the chaos kids still crave warmth and attention. And purposeful bonding is important for parents, too. Even just 15 minutes of cuddling or reading a bedtime story will do wonders for your relationship with your children—and their relationship with each other.
Looking for Peace of Mind, your children will stop squabbling so much when they realize that there’s no need to compete for your attention. Help them feel loved and valued for the unique beings that they are.
Love and Blessings,