Siblings Without Rivalry (by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)

Looking in my bookshelves for something entirely different, I spotted this book. It’s one I read many years ago; I thought it very helpful, and used some of the methods described with my sons. In more recent years I read and thoroughly appreciated other books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which are of more general use in communication with people, even though they are intended primarily for parents.

However, since I had a few hours to myself and wanted something a little different, I decided to start re-reading ‘Siblings without rivalry’, which is subtitled, ‘How to help your children live together so you can live too.’ I wondered if I would abandon it after a few chapters; my own sons are now in their late 20s so it’s no longer nearly as relevant as it was.

But I do spend time with other children and have sometimes been caught up in sibling arguments, usually when two children want the same thing at the same time. And this is a very readable book, with an approach I agree with philosophically: that of finding good solutions to problems and helping children learn to get along without parental interference, wherever possible.

The first chapter is introductory, giving examples of the kinds of problems many parents experience: children fighting, putting each other down, arguing over issues that seem petty to parents, and so on. Even though I’m long out of this phase of life, I found myself nodding and recalling incidents, either with my own children or those of friends. Children naturally squabble, and to some degree it’s useful in learning to get along with other people.

But there are boundaries that most parents feel the need to draw, and times when a child might be in danger, physically or emotionally. This book helps parents to see when it’s appropriate to get involved in sibling battles, and - most importantly, in my view - how to see them from the children’s point of view.

So there are chapters on the dangers of comparisons, on the need to express negative emotions before the child can move on, and on physical fighting. The authors recommend parents staying calm, listening to each child, and not taking sides. They don’t recommend ‘punishment’ of any kind, and only suggest a form of constructive time-out when children’s tempers are so high that they are unable to think straight, and potentially dangerous to each other.

While none of the material was new to me, it was a useful reminder about the parents’ roles in helping children learn to deal with problems that arise in the family. Even if they don’t get along with each other, the authors assert, children and teens can learn to cooperate and find compromises or solutions of some kind to most problems, so long as they’re given the right kind of listening, and so long as the parents have a great deal of patience!

The book is so readable, and so interesting that I read the whole thing, including the supplementary chapters to the 10th anniversary edition, in just a few hours. The style is deliberately relaxed, based on several workshops the authors ran, with anecdotes and individuals combined for simplicity, and some useful diagrams to make points quickly.

Of course parenting is never easy, and the tidy scenarios painted in the book are not always appropriate, nor will they always work - at least, not first time. But I’ve seen enough of them being effective that I believe strongly in the theory and would recommend this book highly to any parent - or relative or teacher - dealing with siblings who can’t get along at all, or who are worn down with children fighting.

Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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