Book Review: Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Sibling rivalry is an issue that pretty much all parents with multiple children face. Chances are those cute pics of your kids you just posted on Facebook were snapped between a no holds barred cage match over who gets to brush their teeth first and a bitter debate over whose bedtime book is longer. So what’s an exhausted, burnt-out parent to do? ‘Siblings without Rivalry’ by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish has a ton of helpful advice for parents struggling with children who are hopelessly locked into competition. The book is organized around an 8-session parenting group that the authors facilitated. Each chapter introduces a new skill aimed at reducing sibling rivalry. The parents’ initial response to each skill is described as are their thoughts after testing out the skill with their own children for a week. This really adds to the power of the book, as many of the parents are skeptical of the skills and share a variety of difficult scenarios, which the authors’ then respond to individually. And many of the parents’ thoughts are just as insightful as those of the authors. Some quick takeaways from the book:

  • Sibling rivalry is a very real, unavoidable force in life. The authors note that all children are born with a desire for “exclusive love” from their parents. And while it may not be rational to have such expectations in a house with multiple siblings, this is a desire that can’t be explained away. It comes from deep within children and requires a careful parent approach
  • Parents have the power to either increase or decrease sibling rivalry among their children.
  • Siblings are going to be upset by one another’s behavior. Our instinct as parents can sometimes be to reprimand a child for having negative feelings towards a sibling. But the best way to diffuse hurtful feelings is actually to acknowledge them. Saying something like “I can tell that you get really mad when Johnny acts like that” is a better way to respond to a child whose upset with their sibling.
  • Parents need to let go of the idea that siblings should be treated “equally.” What children are actually yearning for is to know that their parents see them as unique and special. A statement like “I love you all equally” can leave a child feeling sort of unnoticed and unappreciated. A better statement is “There is no one in this world like you” followed by some actual things you appreciate about that child.

This is just scratching the surface of the book which also includes advice on how to avoid children taking on certain “roles” in the family, how to stop comparing your children, and how to diffuse fights, among other things. There are also some great comic strips in each chapter that literally illustrate the skills.

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find Siblings Without Rivalry on Amazon. A good read that’s sure to help you reduce the fighting and regain some of your sanity.