EXPERT Q&A

How do I improve the relationship between my two daughters?

Sibling rivalry is common, normal, and expected. But here are some tips from CareNectar expert Shenley Seabrook if you’re looking to improve the relationship between your children.

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Question

I have two daughters, ages 10 and 8, and they fight constantly. I rarely—if ever—see them get along or do anything nice for one another. I know sibling rivalry is normal and expected, but is there something I can be doing to improve their relationship?

Answer

Thank you for your question! This sounds so frustrating and I’m sure your heart hurts knowing that your girls are struggling to get along. I promise you are not alone in this!

You’re right about sibling rivalry and fighting as both normal and expected. Most parents would probably say this is on the top of their list of parenting difficulties. It might sound strange, but a certain amount of arguing and bickering between siblings can be good for their social and emotional development, as they are learning how to deal with conflict within relationships. The trick is to help them learn ways to manage conflict that doesn’t include all of the screaming and fighting. I can help you with some suggestions and offer a few activities to try that will hopefully strengthen their sister bond.

I would suggest starting with a family meeting. Let the girls know that you want to sit down and talk about how things have been going within the household lately. Lay some ground rules for the meeting (e.g., one person will talk at a time, calm voices only, and no blaming or arguing). Then have an honest talk about how you’ve been feeling regarding their behavior, and don’t be afraid to use specific emotion words. This can sound like, “I feel sad when I hear you two fight. I want us all to work on how we act towards each other so our home can feel more peaceful. Does anyone have a suggestion on how we can accomplish this?” You can write down their suggestions and add your own. A few to get things started are having separate spaces where they can cool down when the fighting starts so things don’t escalate further, making sure each child is getting enough individual attention, and insisting on respectful language and actions (i.e., ‘Moving forward, we will no longer name call or act aggressively towards each other in this house. I need you to agree to this. It’s not negotiable.’). You might get some whining and pushback here, but try your best to stay calm and firm. It’s not about anyone being in trouble, it’s about making sure everyone in the home feels safe, loved, and appreciated as often as possible.

Second, it would be helpful to assess the girls’ current conflict-resolution skills. The Child Mind Institute has a wonderful article about this. If you read through and find your kids are struggling in this area, the tips in this article will likely help. My favorite interventions to teach are “I-Statements” and the “Emotion Thermometer”. Older kids can typically learn and implement these rather quickly. It will then be important to offer specific praise when they actually use the skills. Something like, “I heard you using an I-statement with your sister! That was wonderful. Do you feel proud of yourself?”

Finally, finding non-competitive activities they can do together that they both enjoy will help strengthen their bond. You can have them each make of list of their favorite activities, then cross-reference the lists together so they can see if they have any in common. Then have them help you plan a time when they can do the activities together. For my girls, the activities include craft projects, dancing along with GoNoodle songs on YouTube, puzzles, and painting. We try to make sure that they have opportunities to do these activities together at least a few times a week. I would advise against board games, card games, or anything where there is a “winner and loser” for now. Before we start an activity, I let my kids know what my expectations are. It usually sounds like, “I have the craft supplies set out. Please remember that you will need to speak to each other using kind words and calm voices. If you have any issues, try to use your I-statements first before you come and get me to help.”

During these activities and any time you see them interacting appropriately, give them some specific praise! It goes such a long way with kids when they know that their parents are noticing and appreciating their efforts. We often get stuck in a loop of only responding when negative behavior is occurring, especially if it feels like we are constantly scolding or redirecting them, so this might take a while to get the hang of. That’s okay! Keep at it and it will make a difference. And remember, every child is different, so not every intervention is going to work for every child or family, but hopefully, this will give you a place to start!

Meet The Expert


Shenley Seabrook

Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.