My DD is 13; her younger sister is 10. My older DD has recently gotten to where she is SO MEAN to her younger sister that it is--in my opinion--unacceptable. In fact, I'm about done with writing off disrespectful, snotty, overly irritable behavior as "normal" teenage stuff. I'm ready to Just Say No, to regard it the same way I do other negativity that has gained "normal" status in mainstream society: If we didn't sit here and accept it as normal, maybe the kids will get the message that it's not okay to mouth off to parents, condescend siblings, etc.
My DDs have always enjoyed a wonderful relationship, but recently older DD has hit a different emotional plane. Fine. Normal enough. But the last couple months, every little thing her younger sister does seems to irritate her. To the point where she (older DD) is snappy and flip; younger DD then responds in kind, and they're off on a b- - - - session. I see big DD go out in the world and treat people respectfully. She doesn't snap her friends' heads off or berate her extended family members, but at home, she's gotten very grumpy and rude.
I'm re-reading Hold Onto Your Kids in an effort to get some insight and maintain connection. So far, big DD's moods seem most affected by her sister, but I sense we parents might not be far behind. She's an easy kid in many ways--has nice friends, enjoys family time, gets high grades--so we've not gone on the mat over a lot of this moody behavior, writing it off as "normal." But after another morning of trouble today, I began thinking that perhaps we ought to be regarding it the same way we do mean-girl behavior on the playground. I've never been willing to wave that off as "normal." It's unacceptable, period. Same thing with that old thing about "boys will be boys" and letting them continue to pound on each other. Is it impossible to teach kids that it's unacceptable? That it won't be tolerated?
I have tried to determine whether big DD's irritability is motivated by something significant, but it mostly seems driven by younger DD's immature behavior or simply her familiarity. "She ALWAYS pets the dog like that," fumes older DD. Or (eye-roll) "There she goes again with that awful ponytail. I swear, if she's coming with us, I'm not going. I can't stand to be with her." I feel like this type of communication/behavior is so far outside the realm of our value system that it's deeply offensive not just to little DD, but to our whole family. "It's just her age" seems like such a cop-out reponse.
At this point, I've slammed the door on all snappy attitudes around here. Read the girls the riot act this morning--very calmly and politely, by the way--and told them that this habit of snapping at each other had to stop, that they must find a way to change their tones and their words. I likened it to when they were little and I got into a habit of yelling. One day I caught one of them looking at me, little angelic face all hurt, and I realized I was being way too harsh with a vulnerable child--and unnecessarily so. It took me some conscious thought to break out of the habit, though, and once I put my head to it and changed my tone and my words--which was pretty easy to do when I changed my perspective and remembered that they were just little--things became much more pleasant in the household. I told them I suspect it's the same with this--they've fallen into this habit of grousing and snapping, and now to do anything less when they're irritated just seems impossible. "Well, it can't be," I told them. "Because grousing and snapping is fully against the rules from now on. It's unacceptable." I also had a private conversation with big DD and basically told her that if this attitude she's taken with her sister is about something more than basic irritability, especially if it's something I might be able to help solve, then she should speak up and ask for help. But if it's just general irritability with her sister being younger, then she needs to get over it, remember her manners and treat her sister the way she herself would like to be treated.
I feel like I'm dealing with toddlers again. Has anyone else dealt with this? I'd love some insight because even though it's been nice to hear my two working on adjusting their communication with each other today, I suspect there's more we should be doing than just adopting a Zero Tolerance policy.