Blue field like crop rows and burgundy border, saying "Don't Just Survive - Thrive

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too

by Adele Farber & Elaine Mazlish

How to Step In so you can Step Out and let the kid grow.

  • Instead of dismissing negative feelings, acknowledge the feelings
    • Don’t react, simply show that you understand what’s causing the negative feelings. (“He said I’m stupid.” “That makes you feel mad.”)
  • Give people in fantasy what they don’t have in reality
    • Don’t tell them how to react, acknowledge what they wish. (“I heard him laughing about me with his friends.” “That hurt your feelings. You wish he’d show you some loyalty.”)
  • Help kids channel their hostile feelings into symbolic or creative outlets.
    • Don’t tell someone to act or label them. Offer creative expression. “Don’t hit her, you can show me your feelings in this doll.”
  • Stop hurtful behavior. Show how angry feelings can be discharged safely. Refrain from attacking the attacker.
    • Don’t focus negative energy on the aggressor, model good behavior. (“You sound angry! But I bet you can express that without calling names.”)
  • Avoid favorable comparisons. 
    • Instead of “You don’t leave a mess like your sister does,” relate to them as an individual. “I see you did this. Good job.”
  • Avoid infavorable comparisons.
    • Instead of negative labels and comparisons like, “That’s disgusting, the baby doesn’t do that,” describe the problem without emotion. “There’s milk down the front of your shirt.”
  • Instead of worrying about giving equal amounts, focus on each child’s individual needs.
    • “You gave him more than me.” “Oh, are you still hungry?” “Yes.” “Would you like a pancake?”
  • Instead of claiming equal love, show children how they’re loved uniquely.
    • “Each of you are special to me. You are my only XX. No one has your thoughts, your feelings, your smile. I’m so glad you’re my daughter.”
  • Equal time can feel like less, so give in terms of need.
    • If you’re busy, point out why you’re prioritizing one over the other without apology and say you’ll be able to pay attention when it’s done.
  • Don’t give your attention to the aggressor, attend to the injured party instead. 
    • Attention to the non-attention seeker. Talk about the injuring party and what they need to learn or did wrong, but without labels. “Oh, that must hurt! Your sister needs to learn that people are not for biting, and use her words instead. Even when she’s angry. Let’s go take care of that arm.”
  • No more bullies
    • Instead of the parent treating the child as a bully, help him see that he can be civil.
      • “Don’t do that. You know you can get what you want without physical force.”
    • When others treat her as a bully, give a new view. 
      • “He knows how to be nice, and ask what for what he wants in a friendly way.”
    • When the child sees himself as a bully, parent can show him he’s nice.
      • “You know how to be a kind person and start right now.”
  • No more victims
    • Instead of the parent treating their child as a victim, show her how to stand up for herself.
    • When others treat him as a victim, give a new view: “Save your breath, she’s too smart to fall for that.”
    • When the child sees herself as a victim, the parent can show her her potential strength. “I bet you could make an ugly face back at that person if you wanted to!”
  • No more problem children
    • Instead of seeing weakness, encourage ability. Don’t label disability as an excuse, just label that things can be difficult and give hints or small assistances and allow them to succeed.
      • Accept frustration and label it.
      • Appreciate what they’ve accomplished, even if it’s imperfect.
      • Help focus the kid on a solution (do not tell them, ask them what they would do)
Never let anyone (including you) lock a child into a role:
  • Instead of : Why are you always so mean?
    • Your brother wants his ball back.
  • Instead of: I know I’m mean.
    • You’re also capable of being kind.
  • Instead of: He won’t let me!
    • Try asking differently. You’d be surprised how generous he can be.
How to Handle the Fighting
  • Level 1: Bickering
    • Ignore it
    • Tell yourself the children are having an important experience in conflict resolution
  • Level 2: 
    • Acknowledge the kids’ actions.
    • Repeat each person’s side.
    • Acknowledge the predicament neutrally.
    • Show that you have confidence that they can work it out together.
    • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Level 3: Possibly dangerous
    • Inquire (is this a real fight or a play fight?)
    • Play fight by mutual consent only
    • Ask them to respect your feelings if the play fight is too rough.
  • Level 4: Dangerous
    • Describe what you see.
    • Separate the children with a cooling off period.
Helping Children Resolve a Difficult Conflict
  1. Call a meeting of the concerned parties and explain the purpose of the meeting. 
  2. Explain the ground rules.
  3. Write down everyone’s feelings and concerns. Read out loud and be sure they’re understood correctly.
  4. Allow each party time for a rebuttal.
  5. Invite everyone to suggest as many solutions as possible, without evaluating.
  6. Decide upon the solutions you can all live with.
  7. Schedule a follow up.
How do you encourage sharing?
  • Put the children in charge of it (I only bought one bottle of soap – what’s the best way to share it?)
  • By pointing out the advantages of sharing.
  • Allowing time for inner process. (Bob will let you know when he’s ready to share.)
  • By showing appreciation for sharing when it occurs spontaneously. (Thank you for giving me a bite!)
  • Modeling sharing yourself. (Now have a bite of my cookie.)
Discourage tattling by taking the position that we expect each child to be responsible for their own behavior. “I’m not comfortable hearing about what your brother is or isn’t doing. If you want to tell me about yourself, I’m happy to listen.”
If a decision gets put to a vote, acknowledge the disappointment of the loser.