Let’s face it: sibling rivalry is as old as humanity itself. How can you help your kids get along?
You have probably read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk: a seminal book on child psychology written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. In 1987 this pair of highly accomplished psychologists published a guide to reducing hostility between siblings. Called Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, this book quickly became the #1 New York Times best-seller and gained tremendous popularity all over the world.
The basic premise of the book is that sibling rivalry is very similar to jealousy. The authors suggest that you imagine a situation when you have to share your spouse with another husband/wife. It is extremely likely that you won’t be able to think logically and feel happy. Your kids might feel exactly the same, and what you can do to help them overcome their negative feelings is to avoid assigning roles, comparing and taking sides.
Here are some pieces of advice the book gives the unhappy parents with two and more children:
- Never dismiss your kid’s negative feelings. After all, it is perfectly normal to be angry with a brother who has just called you a moron. Remember: if you insist on good feelings between your children you are likely to provoke bad feelings. If you allow bad feelings, this might eventually lead to acceptance and reconciliation.
- The parent should always stay out of her kid’s conflicts. To solve a conflict start with listening to both parties and acknowledging the anger of each sibling. Rephrase your kids’ words so that they know that you have listened to them carefully and understand what they feel. Appreciate what you have heard and say that you are sure that the kids will be able to make up. If there is dangerous fighting between kids, separate them until they cool off.
- When children quarrel, remind them of their good relationship just a few minutes ago.
- Forget about equality and do not be afraid to emphasize that all your children are unique. Do not insist on equal amounts of food: ask each child how much she wants. Do not say that you love all your kids the same: underline that you love them because they are so very much different from anybody else. It is totally possible to treat your children unequally and still be fair.
- Address bad behavior of one of the siblings directly and do not compare it with good behavior of another sibling. Never use phrases like: ‘Why can’t you be tidy like your sister?’
- Never give your attention (even negative) to the aggressor. Make the aggressor feel left out by attending to the injured party.
- Avoid direct praise. Use tricks like telling loudly to your spouse about your kids’ successes and good behavior and making sure that the children are able to overhear you.
- Do not make your children share everything they have: there should be separate shelves for permission only things.
- Each child should have alone time with you two or three days a week.
Siblings Without Rivalry is a must read for moms and dads with siblings. It is well-written, funny, interesting, and above all useful. Strongly recommended!