My 10-year-old daughter is very emotional over just about everything. She has a 3-year-old sister and they are constantly at each other more than I thought they would be since there's a 7 1/2-year age difference. My older daughter doesn't understand why the rules on behavior are different for each of them. She seems to think that I'm not disciplining the 3-year-old as I am her, and that I'm playing favorites. How can I help her not feel this way?
From: Academy, Stoughton
At about this age, there are wiring changes going on in your daughter's brain, part of the pre-puberty package (I know -- at this age? Yep) which can make her seem unpredictable, emotional and just plain hard to understand. Does it seem like she feels emotions more intensely than before? Does it seem like she's almost looking for a fight? For something to pin her moodiness on?
A younger sister is the perfect target! Just at a time when a 10-year-old is starting to care about wanting a little privacy, there's this annoying little sister who has no boundaries. At a time when peer relationships suddenly matter more, this annoying little sister can be a source of embarrassment. C'mon, mom, can't you do something?
What you can do is remind her that when she was 3 years-old, she got the same kind of attention and discipline that her sister gets. You can also listen patiently, offer sympathy and, now and then, a touch of reality: "You know, sometimes 3-year-olds can be annoying. I agree. Sometimes they can be really cute, too....."
Part of what's going on for her may be that, one day, she wishes she was still a little girl without any responsibilities and pressures, like her sister, and the next day (next hour?), she wants to be a teenager. She can't identify or label this range of emotions any more than she can predict them, and it's not important that she does. Instead, whenever possible, acknowledge to her the advantages of being 10 -- that she has privileges she didn't used to have, like staying up late, or watching movies a preschooler can't see -- and show your respect for her new-found maturity whenever you see it: "I'm really impressed by how well you ......."
I know I've mentioned "New Moon Magazine for Girls" before, this issue has articles that could jump start age-appropriate discussions. Some good books: "The Roller Coaster Years;" "Girlology."
I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.