38.5 F
Sunday, February 5, 2023
HomeFamilyParenting AdviceTensions Between Sisters—Good Parenting

Tensions Between Sisters—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My daughters are close in age and have always shared a room. They’re both in middle school now and are really getting on each other’s nerves.

They have elected to work together on a project for Girl Scouts, but this past week the squabbling – and coming to me to referee – has been unbearable. Unfortunately, their brothers are several years younger, so matching everyone up with new roommates isn’t an option in our house. They used to get along so well! Anything I can do to restore some peace?

Mom of Many

Dear MoM,

Sisterhood can hit a rough patch in adolescence. In fact, adolescence is tough even without any siblings. It begins with turning inward and ends with finding oneself before flying off toward
adulthood. Between siblings expect teasing, bickering, and conflict. It’s a sticky process, much like a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

Feeling Crumby
As hormones work their way toward monthly rhythms, there could be unpredictable (and uncontrollable) outbursts due to a headache, fatigue, abdominal bloating, or cramps. Did I forget
to mention pimples? Any one of these physical symptoms can cause cranky behavior. A bad mood can spread quickly from one person to another, especially in a close relationship. Odds are
almost fifty-fifty that one or both of your daughters could be experiencing PMS or a painful period and associated aggravations. Help them learn to recognize, anticipate, and if warranted,
medicate the unfamiliar inconveniences of womanhood.

Self-imposed Challenges
The middle school years can bring on self-imposed challenges as a young person puts extra focus on her strengths and weaknesses. She adds stress to her day by striving to: beat yesterday’s track time, complete a challenging extra credit assignment, master a cartwheel before cheerleader try-outs, or perfect a hairstyle to attract the envy of her peers. She needs time, space, and
concentration as she works toward her self-declared goals. She may appreciate some help to set realistic goals, however, realistic thinking is still just developing. In fact, one might spot flawed
thinking in the other as they work through their project. A (diplomatic) adult advisor can come in handy here.

Siblings close in age, especially if they have other attributes in common, are often aggravated by the comparisons they make between themselves. For example, if both have been recognized as having artistic ability, it hurts to see one’s sister getting accolades for a painting. A good rule of thumb for parents of more than one is to always give praise and criticism in private. Carve out
one-on-one time with each child every week, if not each day. An easy way to do this is to identify a household chore for parent-child pairs. Spend this time accomplishing a joint task, yes, but also delving into the daily challenges and triumphs, and philosophical musings of this unique human being. The more each daughter knows that you see her as a lovable and competent individual, the less she will need to take jabs at a rival.

The social scene at middle school can be fraught with put-downs and betrayals. Even if neither of your girls has been caught up in the slings and arrows of Queen Bees and their cliques, they
are probably painfully aware of the standards of peer approval. Items on the list can include: disapproved physical attributes (too tall, too short, etc.), risky alliances (you’re friends with
THAT nerd?), skill deficits (you don’t even PLAY that video game?), and foolhardy behaviors (everyone SAW you kiss your Mom!). A middle schooler is relentlessly self-conscious to guard
against a slip up that could instantly pull her social standing out from under her. Self-criticism is often projected from one sister to the other, as she declares, “Why would you even WEAR that?”

Neutral Corners
Although your girls have been close for many years, adolescence is a good time for each to find her own space. Support them in having friends, out-of-school activities, hobbies around the
house, choices in music / movies / books / fashion, etc. that bring out their individuality. While they will still share a room, a family, and a scout project, there should be times of separation they
can look forward to between their clashes with each other. When tempers flare you might help with suggestions of: using earplugs to listen to different music in their shared room, alternating
turns to decide on the weekend’s family activities, and separating out specific tasks each could work on for the project. Conflict resolution is a life skill best learned in teachable moments.
There may be more discord than harmony in the next several years as your daughters use each other to test themselves. A turning point, with reduced conflict, will come as each forms a clearer picture for herself of the butterfly she is becoming. Whether or not you have a sister yourself, you might enjoy a captivating photo-essay book, Sisters:10th Anniversary Edition (2004) by Carol Saline and Sharon J. Wohlmuth. With a ten-year follow up with the subjects of the first edition, the author and photographer explore the drama and depth of some amazing sister relationships through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. As many of the sisters in the book reflect, good friends may come and go, but a sister is for life.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Tips From our Sponsors

Stay Connected


Most Read