Virtual Book Club 101: Siblings Without Rivalry Sections 1 & 2

This is the first meeting of the Childhood 101 virtual bookclub and our first book is Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (it’s not too late to join us, full details here).

So I guess I’ll start! First up, I love how easy this book is to read. As a too busy, sleep deprived, at home working mama of two, I needed easy and relatable and I think Siblings Without Rivalry delivers on both accounts.

I experienced a bit of an Aha! moment when I read the following paragraph in section one;

“Instead of worrying about the boys becoming friends,” I explained, “I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they’d need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know. I didn’t want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find the ways to resolve those differences. Even if their personalities were such that they never could be friends, at least they would have the power to make a friend and be a friend.”

I want nothing more than for my girls to be close but I realise that I can’t force it and in doing so I may just cause more damage than good. They are very much individuals (which is already very evident even at the ages of five and one) and it is important that they grow to respect (and hopefully continue to love) each other whatever their differences. That they learn to compromise and find an acceptable middle ground and that they learn to appreciate the strengths and gifts of others instead of being envious or feeling less capable/competent/confident.

As for the practical strategies shared in section two;

  1. Instead of dismissing negative feelings about a sibling, acknowledge the feelings.
  2. Give children in fantasy what they don’t have in reality.
  3. Help children channel their hostile feelings into symbolic or creative outlets.
  4. Stop hurtful behaviour. Show how angry feelings can be discharged safely. Refrain from attacking the attacker.

I am not sure if the authors are just spoiling us by starting off lightly but I was relieved that these strategies don’t seem so difficult to accomplish (and I like the number and range of anecdotes shared as examples of each)  – I see it as a matter of me changing (or re-framing) my responses to the conflict as it arises. Of course, change isn’t always easy and it takes time to make new behaviours habitual – I don’t know how many times I have read a self help book or great parenting article and thought, “I must do this,” and then five minutes later I have forgotten it. So I have been thinking about how I can make these strategies a more permanent part of my parenting toolkit and I think I am going to write these four prompts on a paper to put up on the fridge or maybe my bathroom mirror. I want to make a poster for the playroom reflecting these four strategies in language or as examples more relevant to a young child (I’ll share it once I have) and I am going to work at one strategy at a time.

Strategy #1 is first up and this morning when Immy was becoming frustrated at AJ instead of saying something like, “She is just a baby and she doesn’t realise that you aren’t actually stacking the blocks for her to knock down,” I said, “I can see how frustrating it must be for you as AJ keeps interrupting your game.” Immy was quiet for a moment and then turned to get some more blocks and made AJ a pile of her own to play with alongside where she was playing. I was so proud of her for trying to find a way to work out a solution.

Interestingly, Immy has regularly turned spontaneously to art (#3) as a means of working through big emotions (you can see examples here and here) but I have never thought to suggest she use it when she is angry or upset.

Finally, I am going to try to keep top of mind the paradox that the authors shared at the conclusion of section two;

“Insisting upon good feelings between the children led to bad feelings.
Acknowledging bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.”

Now it is your turn to share your impressions in the comment section below. Here are some discussion ideas to get you started (but they are by no means prescriptive – answer one or all, or share (or ask) something completely different, it’s up to you).

  • What is one idea, tip or story that really spoke to you or that you took away as a valuable insight?
  • Do you have question for others in response to what you read?
  • What was your favourite passage from the book?
  • Is their a story of your own related to the themes of one (or both) of these sections that you would like to share?

Details for the next book club meeting
Pop back on May 23rd (that’s three weeks today) to discuss your thoughts about Sections 3 & 4: The Perils of Comparisons and Equal is Less.


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  1. I’ll admit that I’ve yet to start reading Siblings without Rivalry, I’ve decided to tackle How to talk so your kids will listen & Listen so your kids will talk first as we still have one child… For another 3 or so months anyway. But reading this post I’m struck by how similar the concepts in the two books are (at least the first chapter of each). The idea of hearing your child’s emotions & being accepting of them (I.e. not telling the child they are not feeling that or wrong for feeling that) is extremely important. I think it’s a great basis for communicating in all our relationships in fact!

    Definitely something I too want to form habits around Christie! I wonder how different I might be today if this had been done for me throughout my life time?!

    1. I look forward to hearing more about the parallels between the two books as we go along, Taryn. I find the act of recognising and acknowledging your child’s feelings is such a simple one and yet so powerful. I am hopeful that (over time) it encourages my children to be open and honest with each other and with me and their Dad about their feelings rather than bottling them up causing stress or the possibility of having them tumble out in other (most probably inappropriate) ways.

  2. When my copy of the book arrived two days ago my heart sank. Like you I’m so time poor and sleep deprived right now, I thought “why did I think I could do this book club thing?!”. But as I settled in to feed my baby I easily read through the first two sections and jotted down some notes. I found it a good read too 🙂
    : My A-ha moment was the same as yours, Christie. I am now focussing on how to set my children up to have the skills to help them with all their future caring relationships – not just focussing on them getting along.
    : My question is for myself – I just wonder how my experience as a sibling has impacted on who I am today. I hope to reflect more on that as I read on.
    : My favourite passage (or statement) in the book gave me great hope as I panicked that I’ve already done it all wrong: “…. with children you always get a second chance.”
    : It also gave me great hope that even though my sister and I (the closest to me in age of all my siblings) had huge resentment, even hatred for each other, as we grew up, we are now friends in a way that equals no other. There is no one else that I can have a huge argument with and make up with again on the same day, and probably no one who understands me more than she does.

    1. I find your comment about your relationship with your own sister so interesting, Kylie. If you feel it is appropriate to share, when do you feel that that relationship turned around to become such a strong friendship?

      1. I think things turned when we were adults, 18 and 21. Both working, both independent and out having fun in the world. We started to hang out socially and had a couple of shopping trips to Melbourne together. It seemed to happen quite naturally. Somehow she went from being my annoying little sister, who I never wanted hanging around me, to someone I wanted to hang out with. I wish I knew how! Perhaps just age, maturity, living separate lives.

  3. I really loved reading your thoughts Christie. I like how you are making an effort to transfer your knowledge with the prompt posters (for yourself and your children). I may have to pinch that idea!

    I too found the first two sections easy to read. I liked that the authors have used their seminars as a basis for the book, including lots of personal examples from the participants.

    *your first quote was the one that I was furiously highlighting but it was more the story the author gave about her adults sons that has sat with me over the past few days:
    “I realise how little emotional investment I have in the moment-by-moment “temperature” or their relationship.”
    I really want to get to this place. At the moment every name my two call each other, each physical fight they have or horrible look they give I FEEL it and sometimes it can really rattle me. I want to go in and “fix” things, stand up for the victim and lecture the “wrong-doer”. I have known for a long time that this way isn’t going to work in the long run.

    *One thing I have been working on this week with my two children (who are 3-girl and 5-boy) is accepting their feelings but firmly stating/reminding them that hurting each other is not acceptable. My two have recently begun lashing out when they have a problem and it has become clear that they don’t have a great deal of strategies when they become angry/frustrated/annoyed with each other. This week I have repeated over and over this week:
    “Your feelings are always ok, but hurting your brother/sister is never ok”. Now that we have a sibling “tagline” I need to start breaking down more effective strategies for them. I have a feeling this will take some time, but I am up for the challenge!

    Thanks to everyone else who has shared their reflections so far 🙂

    1. I love your tagline, Amber. I was actually talking with a friend about the book this week and she commented on how hard it was to be effective in the heat of the moment when her two are already cross at each other and I think your idea of a short, simple tagline could be the answer to at least breaking it up so that you can deal with the issue once everyone has calmed down. I am thinking that a variation of your idea might work for me, something like, “I can see that you are angry/upset/frustrated but it’s not okay to hit/kick/hurt/bite.” You’ve given me food for thought 🙂

  4. Hello everyone 🙂

    I want to start off by making a confession. I actually only have one child. A daughter, she is 2. Why am I here? I do child care in my home. I have a little boy who is also 2 that stays with us at least 9 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week. They have been together for over a year now and behave just like siblings. I also take care of my nephew (5) and my niece (1) 2-4 days a week and deal with their “sibling rivalry”.

    I originally signed this book out from my local La Leche League library and fell in love. I have since ordered it online and am excited to do another read through of it and follow along with everyone here!

    I too love that paragraph about not worrying about if siblings are friends and instead working on the skills they need to be and make a friend. -It makes sense that you can’t force 2 people to be friends, especially when they don’t have the skills to be or make a friend.

    I find myself guilty of telling them they are OK when they are upset by something the other one has done. Not in an intentionally dismissive way but trying to be comforting. This was a good reminder that I should be more acknowledging of their feelings and give them the words to describe their emotions instead of just trying to make them feel better. In the long run having their emotions acknowledged feels better anyways.

    I already do “show better ways to express anger” by telling them to tell the other person how they feel or what they need. I usually have to be pretty specific with what they should say with the 2 year olds but my daughter seems to be catching on and I have seen her being much more specific “no touch, my turn with truck” instead of pushing him off the truck as she screams no.

    I really like and am trying to work on what they talked about on page 33 about questions that put kids on the spot and instead rephrasing the statement to give the child some credit. The example they used in the book was “I’m sure you can imagine how that would feel if it was done to you.” I know I am guilty of over using the question “are you allowed to do that” which is ridiculous because I know there is no right answer. They either answer yes which is incorrect….they are not allowed doing that, or they answer no which means they knew they weren’t allowed doing it and chose to do it anyway. Giving the child credit seems better for everyone and then we can move on from there.

    I find giving the child what they want in fantasy doesn’t work for my 2 year olds yet. They just don’t really understand, especially while upset. It is confusing for them, but I have done this with my nephew (5) we talked about putting his sister out in the trash can (since it was collection day) It lightened the mood and seemed to help him feel a little better.

    The only thing I can’t wrap my mind around is letting a child be rough and/or destructive with a doll or another toy or object in the house. I find that often if I stop one child from hurting another they become angrier and try to throw, stomp on, hit, smash a toy or something else in my house. I just cannot imagine getting to the point where this is OK with me. I feel like objects should be respected whether they are your own possessions (their toys) or someone else’s possessions (my table, cupboard doors etc.) How can I teach them this respect for the environment around them while still letting them express their anger in this way. Anyone else struggling with this? Any ideas or another view?

    1. Great thoughts Shannon! I am so impressed that you are working through this book with both your own child/daycare child and nephew in mind.

      I too don’t really identify well with the punch a pillow/take it out on a toy method of releasing anger. My children can often be rough/careless with toys/books and just think that when a toy breaks I will immediately replace it. While preventing my children from hurting each other I want them to respect their/own property too. Just this week as a family we have created a “calm down spot” for each of our children. The kids got to choose where their spot was and what went there (both kids put their fold out lounges in their spot plus a few books). I don’t use time out but there are often times when one/or both kids need to be separated, plus need some time to calm down. I was careful not to set this space up as punishment but more as a place where they could choose to go when their feelings overwhelm them. So far my son has taken himself to his spot twice this week (and for good reason too 😉 ). When we were setting up the spot I gave him a few strategies he could use when he gets there (count to 10, deep breathes “Breathe in the flowers (breath in), blow out the candles” (Breath out) ) and I feel it really helped. I am also looking into creating a “calm down jar” from a pinterest link I found.

      Hope that helps with your question!

      1. I am also not inclined to encourage my girls to take the destructive response route but I can imagine that for some children it provides a focused relief for pent up emotion – maybe a punching bag would actually be a better idea, or a massive ball of dough or clay?

        Love the sound of your calm down space, Amber.

  5. Christie: I feel like I should photocopy the “quick reminder” pages and post them all around my house. It all seems so easy and common sense but it is so easy to forget the best things to say in the moment.

    Kylie: The first time I read the book I read all the cartoons first and then went back and read the chapters when I had more time. I love how the authors made it so Busy-Mom-Friendly!

    Amber: I like your sibling tagline. I think I may use it! I am thinking “It is OK to feel _____(mad, sad, frustrated, etc) but hurting people is never OK.”

  6. My boys are 3 1/2 and 7mos, so we haven’t really hit the rivalry phase quite yet. I can, however, tell in my older son’s behavior when he feels I am spending too much time with the baby. He’s also taken up the ‘watch me!’ behavior, and feels I’m not paying attention to him unless he’s ‘performing’. I feel horrible about this, but it almost seems that no amount of quality time is enough to ‘fill his cup’. I remember as a child, my Mom always had a special night for each of us three kids and we could do whatever we wanted, play a game, watch a movie, cook, go out, anything, it was our time. I plan to implement this with my kids as soon as the baby is weaned. My parents were divorced, but I want my hubby to have a special day with each child as well for one-on-one time, especially since he works a ton.

    As I was reading, I noticed right away that the suggestions could basically be applied to any situation. I have an in-home preschool and can apply much of it on a daily basis.

    I have always loved the idea of using art as an outlet for emotions and I enjoyed the story about the mother who demonstrated this to her son. I was recently in an ‘almost-car-accident’ and I think it would be a good opportunity to introduce this concept to my son.

    I agree with Shannon above, I won’t let my son be disrespectful to toys/objects/belongings either, but I have found that, especially for boys, play dough is a good way around this issue. They can smash and hammer and whatever else without damaging anything. This week, my son was having a problem with the kiddos in my preschool class and I told him if he was feeling upset and needed to scream (which he was already doing) that he could scream into his pillow.

    I actually borrowed the book from the library and am about half-way through since I have to return it in two weeks, but I plan to purchase it as well as How to Talk So Kids will Listen……

    1. We get ‘watch me’ behaviour from Immy too, Lindsey. Or (now that AJ is up and on her feet and demonstrating much more in the way of personality) Immy copying the things AJ does in order to elicit a response from us – positive things where we might have been encouraging or praising AJ. It makes me often wonder whether her cup is full. I have been thinking quite a bit about the idea of the “love languages” and want to explore the idea more, as it relates to children. Have you heard of the concept? I wonder if it is not so much that Immy is not getting enough of us but rather not enough of the right type of response, to suit her love language?

      1. The love languages are very interesting, I’d love to delve more into that as well – there’s an idea for the next book club! 🙂 Since writing my original response, we’ve had some major changes in our home as far as daily rhythm and firmer limits and my son’s behavior has shifted completely. Today, while I was making dinner, the boys played in my classroom for nearly an hour – which I find amazing for a 3 1/2 yr old and a 7 1/2 month old!

        I definitely think that my kiddo just needed some limits and using some of the suggested phrases in the book has helped immensely. I listened to Imri talk to the baby while they were playing and it was the sweetest thing! Gaelyn got upset when Imri left the room to use the potty and Imri was saying, “I’ll be right back, Gaelyn, I just have to use the potty, it’s ok, I’ll be right back.” I think I shed a tear! I can only hope this is the start to a great sibling relationship!

  7. I wish you were around when I needed to know what to do or even that I was not alone! (About 30 years ago.)
    I teach preschool and got so excited to see one of my students grow from knocking someone down to just expressing his frustration. Teachers need training too!
    Thank you

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