Do your kids drive you CRAZY with their constant interrupting, fighting, and vying for your attention?
Do your kids drive you CRAZY with their constant interrupting, fighting, and vying for your attention? I know mine have at times! And the way I tend to cope, sometimes, is to look for a book that might give me some new ideas. Whether that’s what you would do or not, I hope this little review gives you a few ideas to restore some peace to your life.
I am going to review two of the most prominent books I know of on raising siblings and give a comparison of the two to help you decide which might be most helpful to spend your valuable time with. The first is an oldie but a goodie, Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, first published in 1987. If you have not checked out their other titles such as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, I definitely recommend it. The other book I want to look at is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham published in 2015.
In Siblings Without Rivalry the authors build on some of the themes of their other books while focusing specifically on sibling relationships and how parents can influence them. The story is in the context of a parent support group that meets and discusses common issues with their children as well as their own adult sibling relationships and mistakes their parents made with them. In that way, it almost reads like a memoir, and if you like a lot of anecdotes it may keep you more interested. The authors use these situations to teach a few basic but very important and helpful concepts. These include the importance of helping your children express in words what their sibling is doing to upset them. They call this “acting as their interpreter.” When you use words instead of behaviors it puts things into perspective and helps children learn to do this for themselves. Other helpful ideas are helping your child express their wishes or fantasies, helping them let their feelings out through creativity, and showing them acceptable ways to express anger. Other helpful concepts are; learning as a parent to use descriptive words about a child’s activities or accomplishments rather than comparative words about them compared with their sibling, not creating roles for your kids like “the smart one” and “the funny one,” and one that is probably my favorite is remembering to treat children as unique rather than equally. In our modern terms, we call this equity vs. equality. Equity means meeting the needs of each person in a way that helps them to have their best outcome, realizing that some will need more help than others. Equality means giving the same amount of help to each person, assuming that their needs should be the same, or it would be unfair to give more to one than another. Children are unique persons and should be helped and celebrated as unique from their siblings. This book is succinct and has their trademark comic strips to show different situations which you kind of miss when you listen to it on audiobook.
In Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, the author includes a lot of the concepts from Siblings Without Rivalry plus a lot more. It is longer but you could focus on chapters that are more relevant to you. I especially like that it has a couple of chapters that focus on preparing to have a second child and how to handle a baby and toddler at the same time. If I was a young mom getting ready to have a second child, I would definitely find these chapters helpful.
Dr. Markham ascribes to the positive parenting movement. The first chapter outlines her thoughts on discipline, and I found her theory to be an amalgamation of other more evidence-based theories. Some of the concepts like “time-ins,” helping children learn to describe their feelings in words, allowing children to express their feelings through crying in a safe way and space, are good concepts. She also emphasizes what she calls “preventative maintenance” which includes establishing routines for young children, having regular special time with each child (which could be 5-10 minutes per day), and encouraging roughhousing and laughter together which are included in a lot of other theories. She expresses a desire to avoid all forms of punishment or consequences and is against “time-out.” “Time-out” used in specific ways, coached by professionals, is one of our more evidence-based interventions for preschool aged children. When I read some of the examples she gives, she describes removing a child who cannot stop himself from splashing others in the face from the pool or bathtub. I would call that a time out or a natural consequence. So, I feel like there is a bit of a difference in semantics rather than an actual difference in methods. As a parent, when reading parenting books, you always have to keep your common-sense hat on and feel free to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.
So overall, I felt like Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings had a lot more practical ideas for how to encourage positive sibling relationships in a family. For young families I felt it was more likely to be helpful. Siblings Without Rivalry was a bit shorter and simpler but emphasized a bit more what not to do. The concepts that is does teach are very helpful, though, and may be more helpful if you have older children. If you’re wondering what siblings have to do with trauma, Siblings Without Rivalry will convince you that the way some parents have treated their children in their sibling relationships could be considered emotional abuse.
I hope this is a helpful rundown with a few new ideas thrown in that you can try today. Working on positive family relationships is more of a journey than a destination. As long as we are trying and doing our best with intentionality, I think that is all we can ask of ourselves. No one is without relationship difficulties, but as parents we can teach our children to solve their difficulties with creativity and respect.
Laura Shamblin, MD
Editor-in-chief of TraumaInformedMD.com