By Bev and Phil Haas
Summer is supposed to be a fun time, but I am dreading it because my two daughters bicker and fight so much. Since they are so close in age (11 and 12), I expect some conflict and competition; but this is getting to be too much. What do you suggest?
The parents of Cain and Abel could certainly understand your feelings, but let’s hope it doesn’t become as serious as their situation! Battles may be inevitable, but parents can help defuse these explosive situations. The bottom line is: “We are family, and we are respectful and loving of each other, no matter what.”
Give Mutual Respect
Do not allow your children to harm one another, physically or emotionally. Words are powerful. Insulting, sarcastic comments can damage deeply. Experts say every negative comment needs at least five positive remarks to even out. And at no time is physical aggression acceptable. We maintained a “no hitting” rule in our home. There were no exceptions.
Help your daughters learn to express emotions in an appropriate way. If you see them behaving in a jealous way, encourage them to identify the emotion by saying, “I understand that you feel bad because . . .” or “I know you hurt because. . . .” Helping your children figure out the causes of their actions will help them learn how to better deal with problems in the future.
Don’t play favorites. Each of your daughters needs to feel important and valuable for who she is, not for what she accomplishes. Be careful you aren’t contributing to the rivalry in this way. Recognize and praise each child’s individual skills, strengths, and accomplishments without implying that one child is somehow better. While comparisons are inevitable and often subtle, whatever you do, avoid negative comparisons such as, “Why don’t you wear your hair like your sister?” or “Maybe your sister could help you study vocab; it was easy!” These kinds of comments are guaranteed to stir resentment.
Teach Conflict Management
It’s often reasonable to allow your daughters a chance to work out their own conflicts. (However, if someone is being bullied or the situation becomes physical, you must intervene.) Give them a chance to resolve the issue. Conflict resolution is an important life skill.
If you intervene, discipline your daughters privately. There is no need to provide an opportunity for one to relish and gloat over the other’s misery, so discourage tattling.
Play Up Good Behavior
Notice when your daughters are working together well and reward them with praise. Be sure each of them receives adequate parental attention and quality time. Families with busy schedules often do everything together; perhaps it’s time to take separate dates so each knows she has special time with you. Some time and energy must be available for individual attention to each daughter on a regular basis so neither feels the need for competition.
Enlist God’s Help
Pray for your daughters and teach them to pray for each other. Prayer helps keep life in perspective and will help promote the love you want them to have for one another. Christians are to serve one another, so find opportunities for them to do this and affirm their acts of kindness and positive attitude.
Stay Positive with a Sense of Humor
Sometimes all you can do is laugh and, as Phil says, “prescribe the problem”—which means you give them what they think they want. They don’t want to talk? Fine. They’re not allowed to talk for the day. Hands weren’t used nicely? Okay. Hands are now conjoined. Fighting over the same item? Now it’s gone. Doing the unexpected can bring about change rather than being predictable with your response to their rivalry.
Perhaps you have stories of your childhood that would make Cinderella and her stepsisters look calm and loving. Share them. I’m sure my sister Kathy would have a different version of this story, but I still carry scars from being pushed into a rose bush because she wanted the Barbie doll I had. She always wanted the clothes I was wearing, too. But we survived it all and she is my best friend today. Don’t give up on your daughters and don’t forget those times they treat each other the way they want to be treated.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.