skip to Main Content

Sibling Rivalry and Acknowledging Pronouns

Expert Parenting Advice

My six- and eight-year-old daughters fight constantly. Do you have any strategies to help me help them get along better?

Unfortunately, constant sibling quarrels are extremely common. The good news is that children in the six-to-eight age range can start to become conscious of when certain feelings are arising in them that result in fighting. They may not always be able to voice these, but bringing awareness to the feelings can help children control them a bit better and maybe help calm some of the sibling conflict.

I recommend researching breathing exercises and guided meditations for kids; this is a great way to bring more mindful awareness of emotions. Then perhaps your daughters will begin to let you and each other know what is bothering them before it turns into a fight.

Another strategy is to work on creating some agreements with your children. Kids at this age can understand what it means to agree to do or not do something and will usually try to avoid breaking that agreement.

Try talking with your daughters about the types of things that are causing the greatest conflict in their relationship. See if they can agree on what words make them feel good and what words don’t.

Is craving more attention from you, or another parent, family member, or guardian an issue? See if you can schedule some one-on-one time independent of the other child.

Does one daughter feel like the other offers to help her too much or is constantly in her space? Try explaining that help comes in all forms and sometimes the best help is to give space. See if they can agree on what separate time and shared time together looks like.

Are they fighting over screens, game time, or toys? Have them create a short contract that allows them to agree on when these items are shared, when it is solo time, and what strictly belongs to each child to control. Write out the agreements on a giant sticky pad or poster board and decorate it together. Have them sign the agreement with their traced or painted handprints to make it even more fun.

Keep in mind these agreements will absolutely fall apart at times. But adopting agreements is a good start and may help them understand boundaries which might affect how they navigate relationships for the rest of their lives. Good luck! 

We haven’t been around extended family for a while, and this holiday season we will see quite a few relatives. My 14-year-old has come out as gender-expansive and is using the pronouns “they/them.” Should I give the family a heads-up on this? Any advice is appreciated.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of honoring your child’s gender identifiers, especially as it relates to their mental health and development. Children who identify as trans or gender-expansive are at high risk for depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and self-harm. When you acknowledge something as simple as their preferred pronouns, it can be a total game changer in helping your child see themselves as valued and loved for who they are.

To us parents, it may seem like our children are constantly changing how they want to be perceived during their adolescence. And it’s true, they are – especially in their middle to high school years. But as swiftly as those changes may come, it’s our job to allow them to figure it out and create space for them to feel as comfortable as they can in that journey. It’s all a part of growing up. Many children today feel more empowered to openly explore different aspects of their identity. And that’s a good thing.

The first step here is to ask your child how they feel about relaying the new information to relatives. Are they ready to come out as gender-expansive or non-binary to the family? They may not yet be comfortable with having some of the conversations that may come along with trying to educate others around their pronouns. If they do want the family to use the correct pronouns, then it makes sense to let your relatives know ahead of time. This will also give them an opportunity to ask any questions or come to terms with this change before reuniting as a family. Also, you can gain a sense of whether they are receptive to the change so you can prepare yourself and your child. 

Compassion will be needed both ways as you help your child understand that a change in gender expression will be difficult for some to accept. You should be clear with your family that intolerance and any manner of disrespect toward your child are unacceptable. 

Whether and how much grace you and your child give while gently correcting family members who are trying, but may forget, to use the appropriate pronouns, is up to you. Regardless of the pronouns other family members use, continue to
use your child’s gender-expansive pronouns when referring to them around your family. Perhaps any relatives who are having difficulty with the change will follow suit.

Lucretia Marie Anderson (they/them) is a mother of two, a former middle school teacher, founder of Joyful Muse Co, LLC, and a certified life and mindfulness coach who specializes in conscious parenting and anti-racist coaching. They are also the manager of historical education at Maymont Foundation.
Back To Top

There are reasons 17,000 families have signed up for the RFM eNews

Exclusive Contest Alerts | New Issue Reminders | Discount Codes and Savings