Parenting is one of the biggest challenges we face, and I struggle with the balance of being a loving, nurturing, understanding Mom, and putting my foot down without losing my shit. So I’ve been reading a lot of parenting books, and there is so much overlap in concepts but I need the constant reminder of the tips and tools available to us.
The purpose for these book overviews (I say overviews instead of reviews, because I won’t just tell you my opinion of the book, but I will also go through the basic points, sort of like Cliffs Notes) is two-fold. I know a lot of parents who are curious about all of these parenting books but just do not have the time to keep up with them all. I’ve had friends express interest in the gist of these parenting books. I’ve had random moms on vacation come up and ask me “Does that stuff work? Is it any good? Should I bother reading it?” Hopefully, these posts will help save some time and get parents started on some useful techniques.
I also NEED to review this information for myself, to have it available for reference, before I lose my mind. In writing about it, I am forced to review what I learned over again, and gain a deeper understanding. The best way to learn is to teach, right?
So without further adieu, below are some of the main techniques Siblings Without Rivalry offers to help improve sibling relationships and create more family harmony.
Deal with Bad Feelings
Acknowledge a child’s negative feelings. As with all other positive parenting programs, Faber emphasizes acknowledging the child’s feelings rather than dismissing them, this time in the context of negative feelings toward a sibling. Faber demonstrates each of the techniques with simple cartoons that show “instead of” examples like responding to complaints with “big deal.” Faber then gives examples of ways to put their feelings into words as a way of acknowledging their feelings, making them feel heard, and alleviate some negative feelings.
Give children in fantasy what they don’t have in reality. This is another approach that I have seen repeated in other positive parenting classes and books. Instead of dismissing a child’s complaints, express what they might wish. For example, instead of saying “So what?” you could say “That hurt your feelings/that could be annoying. You wish he would be nicer to you/You wish he would give you more space.” This way, they feel like you “get it” and sometimes that is enough to calm them.
Help children channel their hostile feelings into symbolic or creative outlets. Instead of taking hard feelings out on siblings or others, suggest they show you their feelings with a doll or draw a picture of how they feel. If they are a little older, you could suggest they write their feelings down in a letter.
Stop hurtful behavior. Show how angry feelings can be discharged safely. Refrain from attacking the attacker. If you are able to intervene and stop hurtful behavior, like punching one’s sister, instead of responding with “what heck do you think you are doing?!” try calmly saying something like “No punching. Tell your sister in words how you feel.” Make a suggestion as to how they could better express their anger.
Avoid both favorable and unfavorable comparisons. We think we are supposed to be praising our kids, right? Saying things like, “I wish your sister would listen as well as you.” Faber explains that favorable praise brings it’s own set of problems. The praised sibling could start feeling they are better than the other sibling, or feel pressure to keep it up and question how much their parents would still accept and love them if they didn’t continue to do those things. It also makes some kids worry that their parents might be similar but opposite things to their siblings, too.
Faber suggests that unfavorable comparisons like “Why can’t you act like your sister?” may prompt a child to choose to “excel at being bad if they can’t excel at being good,” To me, this sounds similar to the oft-cited idea that people will live up or down to our expectations.
To avoid comparing–describe what you see, describe how you feel, or describe what needs to be done. Faber gave the classic example of hanging up coats, which is pretty much the struggle we have at least once a day. Descriptions could look like: “I see a jacket on the floor” or “That upsets me” or “The coat belongs in the closet.” The same idea goes for favorable comments. Describe what they did right and/or what you feel, for example, “I see you hung up your jacket” and/or “I appreciate that. I like seeing our hallway looking neat.”
Being matter-of-fact like this also helps keep the emotion out of it, so that some situations become less personal or fraught with expectations, and makes the child more likely to listen. Getting their amygdala revved up by yelling or being overly-emotional probably doesn’t help them use their brains to make the best choice. Nor does it model the behavior you wish to see in your child. I wish I could remember this more often in the heat of the moment. If writing about what I have learned helps remind myself to chill out on my kids, I will have succeeded.
Give Uniquely, Not Equally
Life isn’t fair, and you will exhaust yourself trying to make things equal between your children. Instead, Faber says to focus on each child’s individual needs, for example, give time based on needs and emphasize the temporary situation that requires your attention be given to the other child. Reassure the sibling that their time will come once you are finished, rather than allowing one sibling to interrupt the other.
Instead of claiming equal love, show children how they’re loved uniquely. Whether it’s true or not, neither children are likely to believe that you love each of them equally. Instead focus on their uniqueness and what makes them each special to you.
Siblings in Roles
I always attributed part of how I turned out to having three brothers-I blame them for my food aggression, but I also think I differentiated myself by being the good student. What might work out for one sibling however, may not work out for the others.
Faber argues that if we do not put our children into roles, we are freeing them to change. As mentioned above, siblings may fall into roles you create for them. They are likely to live up or down to your expectations.
No more bullies, no more victims.
Faber gives an example of a sibling acting as the aggressor, hurting the other. Instead of focusing on the child at fault, telling them they are bad, can’t be trusted, or otherwise giving them attention, tend to the injured party instead. This is exactly what my son’s psychologist trained me on during a session where my daughter was also with us. He hit her, and she walked me through how to respond, by focusing on her and making her feel better, rather than on him.
Instead of the parent treating the child as a bully, the parent can help him see that he is capable of being civil. Again, give them something to live up to.
When other siblings treat one as a bully or a victim, the parent can give them a new view of their sibling.
When a child sees himself/herself as a bully, the parent can help him/her see his/her capacity for kindness. The same goes for a child who sees himself/herself as a victim. The parent can help them see their potential strength.
Instead of the parent treating the child as a victim, show them how to stand up for themselves.
Finally, instead of focusing on children’s disabilities, focus on their abilities. This way, no child would set themselves in a role of being the “problem child.”
When Kids Fight
Faber describes 5 steps in dealing with fighting siblings.
- Acknowledge their anger towards each other. “Wow, you guys are really mad at each other!”
- Listen to each child’s side with respect. (“So you wanted to play by yourself, and you you wanted to play with the legos too.”)
- Show appreciation for the difficulty of the problem. (“This is a really tough situation.”)
- Express faith in their ability to work out a mutually agreeable solution. (“I know you two will be able to work it out.”)
- Leave the room (or walk away).
If you can remember to do this, tell me how! Faber’s cartoons are very helpful in illustrating these concepts.
Helping Children Resolve a Difficult Conflict
Faber gives a list of steps:
- Call a meeting of the concerned parties and explain the purpose of the meeting.
- Explain the ground rules (i.e. taking turns, no interruptions)
- Write down each child’s feelings and concerns. Read them aloud to both children to be sure you’ve understood them correctly.
- Allow each child time for rebuttal.
- Invite everyone to suggest as many solutions as possible. Write down all ideas without evaluating or commentary. Let the kids go first.
- Decide upon the solutions you can all live with.
We do something similar as a family, though not as involved. We have a family meeting once a week or so, where each of us can respectfully bring up any issues that have come up and make requests of each other. It has been a great way of expressing wants and needs without complaining or putting anyone on the defensive.
Battle Over Property
Faber gives three steps in order to address fights over items:
- State each child’s case.
- State the value or rule. One example-we use a rule from Positive Parenting Solutions, that items are fair game if they are in the shared space.
- Leave the door open for the possibility of negotiation. Example-“If you want to work something out with your sister, that’s up to you.”
At home, my kids used to argue over what to watch on TV. Now, I just tell them they can work it out themselves. The TV doesn’t go on until they have agreed on something. Netflix makes this easy; they already know what is “on.” Being a Montessori parent, I’ve learned that giving the kids this level of responsibility helps empower them to come up with solutions on their own and feel more independent, capable of navigating negotiations, advocating for themselves, and compromising.
Faber does not advocate forced sharing; however, she does give tips on how to encourage it:
- Put the children in charge of sharing. Pose the problem matter of factly and give them the chance to come up with a solution. (“I have one xyz for everyone. What’s the best way to share it?)
- Point out the advantages of sharing. (“If you both share half of x and half of y, you’ll both have one of each.”)
- Allow time for inner process. (“Your sister/brother will let you know when she’s ready to share.”)
- Show appreciation for sharing when it occurs spontaneously. (“Thank you for giving me a bit of your food; it was delicious.”)
- Model Sharing
As parents, we often want to discourage tattling as it usually causes a lot of unnecessary arguments. Faber says that if a child is tattling to get their sibling in trouble, you do not want to reward the tattling child with anger towards the targeted (yet still guilty) sibling. If the child is tattling because they feel they need your help or protection, they need to show that they’ve tried to work out their differences on their own. If not, then you can intervene and help.
Faber also makes the distinction between needless tattling and alerting parents of dangerous behavior. So, let the kids work out their issues themselves, rather than tattling, and offer to step in only if they have can’t resolve it themselves. Don’t feed one sibling’s desire to get the other in trouble by showing anger toward the guilty child. Allow tattling when it is a safety issue.
More Ways to Encourage Good Feelings Between Siblings
- Make sure that each child gets some alone time with you several times a week. Amy McCready at Positive Parenting Solutions advocates for two 10-minute periods a day with each child doing whatever they want to do (within reason), with your full attention. Realizing this is a tall order for most parents, experts seem to agree that any one-on-one time is helpful as it builds more connection, and in the case of siblings, less insecurity and need for attention. Hand-in-Hand parenting also encourages this quality time.
- When spending time with one child, don’t talk about the other.
- Don’t withhold affection or attention from your “favorite child” in order to make it up to a less favored child. This could cause confusion and make one child feel like they have done something wrong.
- Don’t lock the children into their position in the family constellation (oldest, youngest, middle). Allow each child the opportunity to experience some of the privileges and responsibilities of the other. If they are the youngest, find an opportunity to be the oldest for a day, perhaps at a playdate or with younger cousins, etc.
- Don’t get trapped by “togetherness.” If your children are going through a rough patch of fighting, don’t force it; it could drive them further apart.
- Let each child know what it is about him that his siblings like or admire. This allows them to shift there focus towards that positive and leaves with warmer feelings towards each other.