In “Siblings Without Rivalry,” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish do something they didn’t manage to accomplish in “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”: they set themselves apart from the rest of the parenting prescription pack. Though I found the book’s central conceit – that it retells the exchanges of one composite parenting workshop – perpetually annoying, the actual advice specific to fostering healthy and happy sibling relationships has proved invaluable in my household.
Since I wish the authors had presented their wisdom in a straightforward manner, that’s just what I’ll do:
- “Brothers and sisters need to have their feelings about each other acknowledged . . . [w]ith words that identify the feeling . . . , [w]ith wishes (“You wish he’d ask before using your things.”), or with symbolic or creative activity,” because “[n]ot till the bad feelings come out can the good ones come in.”
- “[S]ince kids tend to copy their parents’ behavior, maybe the next time [you are] angry at someone, [you] should sit down in front of the children and draw or write,” modeling constructive channelling of negative emotion.
- “Resist the urge to compare.” “Instead . . . [d]escribe what you see . . . , [d]escribe what you feel . . . , or [d]escribe what needs to be done.”
- “‘To be loved equally, . . . is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely – for one’s own special self – is to be loved as much as we need to be loved.’” As a result, “[c]hildren don’t need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely. Instead of giving equal amounts [or time]. . . [, g]ive according to individual needs. . . .” So for goodness sake don’t say, “I love you all the same,” and when you don’t give equally, help the “slighted” kid with “understanding and acceptance of their disappointment.”
- In order to help kids escape roles, “treat[ y]our children, not as they are, but as [you] hope they w[ill] become.” This includes refraining from describing your child’s current proclivities (making your statements self-fulfilling prophecies) and actively combating assigned or assumed roles. For example, “[i]nstead of the parent treating the child as a ‘bully’ . . . [t]he parent can help him see that he’s capable of being civil. When other siblings treat him as a ‘bully’ . . . [t]he parents can give the siblings a new view of their brother. When the child sees himself as a ‘bully’ . . . [t]he parent can help him see his capacity for kindness.”
- “How to handle the fighting. Level I: Normal [b]ickering. 1. Ignore it. . . . 2. Tell yourself the children are having an important experience in conflict resolution. Level II: Situation [heating up . . . adult intervention might be helpful]. 1. Acknowledge their anger. . . . 2. Reflect each child’s point of view. . . . 3. Describe the problem with respect. . . . 4. Express confidence in the children’s ability to find their own solution. . . . 5. Leave the room. Level III: Situation [p]ossibly [d]angerous. 1. Inquire. . . . 2. Let the children know: ‘Play fighting by mutual consent only.’ . . . 3. Respect your feelings: ‘You may be playing, but it’s too rough for me. You need to find another activity.’ Level IV: Situation [definitely dangerous . . . adult intervention necessary.] 1. Describe what you see. . . . 2. Separate the children. . . .” And in a “Level IV” situation, “[d]on’t give your attention to the aggressor. . . . Attend to the injured party instead.” In any of these situations you can try saying something like, “oh dear, you two were having so much fun,” in order to recast them as a team rather than adversaries.
- “When the children can’t work out a problem by themselves. 1. Call a meeting of the antagonists. Explain the purpose and the ground rules. 2. Write down each child’s feelings and concerns, and read them aloud. 3. Allow time for rebuttal. 4. Invite everyone to come up with solutions. Write down all ideas without evaluating. 5. Decide upon the solutions you all can live with. 6. Follow-up.”
- “How to give support to the child who asks for it without taking sides. . . . 1. State each child’s case. . . . 2. State the value or rule. . . . 3. Leave the doorway open for the possibility of negotiation. (‘But Jimmy, if you want to work something out with your sister, that’s up to you.’) 4. Leave.”