This is a guest post by Megan Wild.


Our culture is full of images capturing the beauty that is sisterhood. You know those posters of girls in white dresses and straw hats with their arms around each other in a field of flowers, smiling beautifully in the sun? Or all those “Share this if you love your sister more than anything!” memes on Facebook?

These things are everywhere, and it makes having a sister seem like the world’s greatest blessing. That was not the case in my family, and many families across the world. My sister and I did it all; we yelled, fought, and wrestled. Needless to say, we were not made out of sugar and spice. While our relationship has improved greatly since our teenage years, we both saw the impact it had on our parents.

It can be incredibly disappointing if sisters don't act like best friends — perhaps mostly for the parent of sisters who don’t get along. It can feel like a major failure when the little girls in your house would rather throw things at each other and call each other horrible names instead of being all hugs and kisses all the time. It seems no one else on Earth knows just what to say to inflict the most cutting insult or the meanest jab quite like the people you live with, and sisters do sibling rivalry better than anyone.

So what’s a desperate parent to do? First, try not to feel guilty about it. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, and sometimes kids have real trouble understanding each other’s feelings. Sibling rivalry is petty common and totally natural, after all.

Second, see what you can do to help your daughters understand each other better and behave in a way that, if not a picture-perfect friendship, at least displays a basic respect for personal space and tender feelings. You can’t force perfection, but you can set reasonable expectations. Try these tips to help your girls get along.

1. Don't Play Favorites

Take a moment to examine your own words and actions to make sure you’re not subconsciously doing anything to make your daughters think one is favored over the other. If you harbor a favorite one in your heart, keep it a secret forever. No one is judging you for having more in common with one child, but it’s your job as a parent to treat your children equally. If you need to change your behavior, do it immediately.

2. Model Respectful Behavior

There’s nothing worse than hearing your words bounce back to you in an argument, and it’s especially disheartening to hear them from the mouths of your children. If you have outrageous, mean-spirited fights with your spouse or other adults in front of your children, you’re likely to hear your angry words again — this time from one sibling to another.

Teach your children the right way to work through a disagreement by modeling “good” arguing. The last thing you want is a scene from the cult classic, Pulp Fiction played out in your living room. Stay calm, listen to your partner and reach for compromise. It’s usually easier said than done, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

3. Lay Some Ground Rules

Speaking of respectful behavior, it’s always a good idea to have basic house rules about what is and is not okay under your roof. Part of these rules should include safe behavior and basic manners, so clearly outline consequences for physical fighting, hurtful comments and other hurtful behaviors like taking toys without asking or ruining someone else’s clothes. With ground rules and clear consequences in place, you won’t have to choose sides in an argument. Only intervene to maintain order and impose consequences.

4. Explain the Difference Between Fairness and Equality

If you find yourself constantly barraged with questions and accusations that you haven’t treated your daughters fairly, it’s time to start explaining the difference between fairness and equality.

While kids are still learning the finer points of moral reasoning and abstract thought, they tend to think equality is the most important thing. For example, if one child gets an extra helping of soup at dinner, you may hear cries of, “No fair!” While the soup isn’t equal, it could be completely fair to give a child who is five years older an extra serving because, as a bigger kid, she needs more to eat.

Remind your kids that fairness is when everyone gets what they need — it might not mean getting exactly the same thing. This graphic may help younger kids understand the concept.

5. Create Separate Spaces

Sisters need time to form their own identities, so make sure your girls have room to do so. While an obvious fix is having separate bedrooms, more subtle issues like sharing clothes, toys, and dealing with hand-me-downs can also take a toll. As much as possible, encourage your girls to branch out into different activities and interests so each one gets a chance to shine without inviting comparisons to her sister.

Though you can’t force very different girls into a picture-perfect sisterhood, you can help them get along better by following these tips. If all else fails, remember that how well sisters get along in childhood is not a predictor of how well they’ll get along as adults. Time can change a lot of things, and your daughters may yet grow to be the kind of sisters memes are made of.

Megan Wild writes about relationships in the home and how they can be improved with the proper space. Check out some of her tips and ideas for homeowners on her blog, Your Wild Home.

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