What Should Parents Do When Sisters Steal From One Another?
“She took my silver earrings.”
“I did not, she’s lying.”
“Mom, do something!”
If this sounds familiar, you are, most likely, the parent of two adolescent daughters. And while a certain amount of sibling conflict is expected, when uninvited borrowing gets out of hand, your household may seem more like a war zone than a family unit. In the heat of the moment, you’ve probably tried every trick in the book – advising, bargaining, threatening, punishing – but you may, in fact, be over involving yourself in the conflict. What’s more, you might even be making things worse.
Psychologist Anthony E. Wolf, author of Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, warns that once parents enter a sibling conflict, the battle completely changes. “The combatants no longer have any interest in resolving the problem. Now all they care about is getting their parent on their side.” Wolf advises that in the best interests of their children, Mom and Dad must know when to step in and when to step back out.
Start with Some Basic Ground Rules
* Be conscious of each sister’s right to privacy and personal possessions. Do not insist that everything must be shared (except family items like the television, computer or telephone).
* Make it clear that sisters should not be entering each other’s room without being invited.
* Never permit any physical retaliation such as hitting, kicking, pushing or hair pulling. This should be grounds for immediate discipline.
* If sisters do agree to exchange or borrow items, they must be returned in clean, good condition.
* Explain that you will not be paying for any item that is borrowed, then lost or ruined.
Don’t Play the Role of Solomon
* Understand that your participation will promote endless arguments and could negatively affect the relationship between the sisters.
* Don’t be a sounding board for either side.
* Instruct both sisters to work it out for themselves.
* Avoid siding with the more passive sister or confronting the aggressor.
* Never address the situation when only one sister is present.
* Make certain that both Mom and Dad are on the same page with how to handle things.
* When the fighting gets too heated, intervene only to separate the two sisters until things cool down.
Though it can be difficult to listen to all of the insults, tears and slamming doors, Wolf reassures that “If parents stay out of the way, siblings really can resolve the majority of their disputes, but in their own way and not without squabbling, and often not exactly as their parents would have wanted.” This may offer little consolation during an epic battle but, fortunately, the adolescent wars don’t last forever.