Q: I love my daughters, but they’re constantly fighting. My mother says I should intervene, but my husband thinks sibling rivalry is normal for children their age. Should I be worried about this?
A: Sibling rivalry is normal and extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it should be tolerated. If carried to extremes, it can be very harmful, especially if there is constant anger, bitterness and mutual disrespect. Remind your daughters regularly that they are setting the foundation for their relationships as adults. How close they’ll be in the future, not just today, is at stake.
Consider holding a family conference–a quiet evening when everyone is in a good mood. Tell your daughters that you’re concerned about their disrespectful treatment of each other and that you expect to see some changes made. Make it clear that you’re going to be implementing some new household rules and that there will be consequences when those rules are broken.
The expectations should be clear, and the consequences immediate, consistent and powerful. For example, if your daughters receive an allowance, tell them that you’ll be deducting a ringgit a day for every violation of the new “respect policy.” You could also take away favourite toys, activities or privileges for a period of time. Be sure to choose things that really matter to your girls – smartphone or social media access for a pre-teen or adolescent, play time or time with friends for a younger child.
Write out your new rules and consequences in the form of a contract. Have your daughters sign it and post it on the refrigerator. Since it’s important to emphasise positive as well as negative consequences, you might want to include an “earn it back” clause, whereby the girls can regain privileges by treating each other appropriately for a predetermined period of time. Once the plan is in place, stick to your guns and be diligent to administer the agreed-upon consequences consistently.
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