I’m finally reading Siblings Without Rivalry, after two people mentioned it to me in the space of a few days and I decided it was A Sign. I know I should have read it years ago, possibly as soon as we had Mabel, but there you go, I didn’t.
It was written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who wrote the laboriously titled but very helpful How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You may remember me raving about one of its techniques last year when Dash was stuck in the terrible six-and-a-halfs. Siblings Without Rivalry takes much of the same material, but applies it specifically to situations that come up between siblings. It’s really quite eye-opening.
On Saturday morning I was reading it at the breakfast table as Dash and Mabel fought their way around the house, disagreeing over what or how to play, bugging each other, pinching and hitting and screaming and then laughing again. I called them over and asked Dash to read the title of my book. He spelled it out. They remembered what “siblings” meant, but I had to explain “rivalry.”
“I’m reading this so that I can figure out how to stop you two fighting,” I said. They were impressed that I had to read a book to discover such a thing. Dash grabbed the book and sat down at the other end of the table, opening it at the first page and starting to read.
“I’m going to find out what it tells you, so we can not do it,” he said, with an evil grin.
I was delighted to see him reading, so I did the washing up and left him to it.
Anyway, I thought I’d share my notes, since I have to bring the book back to the library soon. I recommend reading the whole thing to understand where the authors are coming from and see lots of examples of these techniques in action. The book also shows them in cartoon form, which makes it quick to read and easy to remember.
- Siblings are essentially always in competition for their parents’ love/time/attention. As soon as you take sides in a dispute or punish one for hurting the other, you are building resentment and rivalry, and therefore making things worse.
- When they complain about their sibs, you should verbalize how they’re feeling for them: “You sound furious.” “It makes you mad when he does that.” Acknowledge how they feel about each other.
- Encourage them to express their feelings with words: “Tell him how you feel.” “Let him know how mad you are with words.”
- Tell the other one why you’re listening to the one right now: e.g.,
– Mabel, interrupting: I have to tell you this thing.
– Me: I know you do, but right now I’m listening to Dash tell me about school. I know it’s important to him so I want to hear it. Then I can listen to what you need to tell me.
- Treat them uniquely, not equally. They get the things they need when they need them; they don’t both get things at the same time just because. (I’m not sure that “because Mom went to Target and I was with her and I whined” counts as needing something, exactly.)
- Don’t cast them into roles, and don’t let them do it to each other. Tell them how you want them to be:
“I know that Dash is generous, so I’m sure he’ll give you a turn when he’s done with it.”
Or, better, “I know you’re both smart, so you can work out a solution to this.”
Then leave the room so that they don’t act up for your benefit.
- Never compare, even favourably. It reinforces perceived roles and encourages resentment between sibs. When one comes tattling about the other, say “I don’t want to hear about him right now. Tell me about you.”
- Encourage teamwork rather than pitting them against one another. So “Let’s see if you can work together to tidy up before the timer goes off” rather than “Who can pick up all the toys first?” I am so guilty of saying this. You know why? Because it works! (But it’s bad. Bad Mommy.)
- When they’re fighting and it’s escalating, state the problem and tell them you expect them to work it out. No tolerance for hurting. If one is in danger, separate them.
- If they can’t work it out, sit down and make a list with both of them, the way we did for one with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen.