Notes from Siblings Without Rivalry

These are my own personal notes from the book Siblings Without Rivalry. I recommend this one strongly. 🙂

I am really glad I read this book. I will probably re-read it. The themes are individualism, reason, and rational self-interest. Here are some of the specifics of these themes.

Don’t try to give each children “equal” things. It is nearly impossible to do this in all cases. Instead, focus on what each person individually needs. A common application of this is when a child might ask, “Mom, who do you love best?” A typical answer is “I love you all equally.” This does not satisfy the child. It makes them feel like 1/3 of the pie. Instead, a better answer is, “I love you all uniquely and immensely for your own individual traits.” Or another example is a child who demands an equal amount of your time. You may say, “Your sister has an important recital coming up and needs my time right now. When I am done, maybe you and I can spend some time together.”

Don’t ever compare siblings. Don’t ever use other siblings as a method to goad the child into a desired behavior. Saying to a child, “Your sister gets good grades why can’t you?” or “Your brother is outgoing why can’t you be?’ are insults, do not infuse self-confidence, do not provide any teaching or coaching, and naturally make children resent each other. The “good” sibling doesn’t fare well either. Their virtue is being used as a weapon against their siblings and will cause the siblings to resent the “good” child.

Don’t put children into roles. Don’t ever say, “Well you are they shy one and Bobby is the courageous one.” The child becomes locked/pigeon holed in this role. Instead of describing the child negatively as being “shy,” you might say, “Dylan has it in him to talk to people and he will when he is ready.” This is especially important when children fall into a bully-victim role. The goal is to encourage the bully to be kind and the victim to be strong.

Of course, a theme in all of the author’s books is to empathize with children and to encourage them to solve their own problems. Empathy is important because there probably is a very real reason that a seemingly aggressive child is acting out. Too often I have seen parents not watch their children (because it is impossible at certain times or because they are willfully evasive) and then happen to see one be rough with the other and instantly punish the rough one and be overly sugary sweet to the seeming victim. The authors, like many, do not advocate punishment (spankings, timeouts) in these, or any situations. The response is usually to validate their feelings, “I see you are very angry.” If you don’t know what to do, just let the children cool off. If you open your ears to listen to the children, you may be surprised at what they say. Children can be very articulate. Their book, “How to Listen so Kids will Talk,” may be an excellent resource for more information on this.

With letting children solve their own problems, it does not mean total anarchy. It means gentle guidance towards getting them to solve their own problems. If one runs to you to tattle on another, you might listen to what they have to say and then say something like, “I see you are upset with your brother. But your brother is the one who needs to hear it—from you.” Or, when living in a home where things have to be shared, you may call a family meeting about a particular problem and ask each child to come up with solutions to a problem. All solutions should be accepted at first without judgment. Then let the children hash it out.

Ultimately, the message I got was, “Even in a family situation, focus on each child as an individual.” Don’t try to equalize yourself among them—each has their own needs and their will naturally be “inequality.” But, ironically, even with this inequality, each child can personally feel that their needs are 100%, or close to 100%, taken care of.

Certainly don’t try to equalize their talents. One mother had her daughter’s curly hair chopped off so it would stop making her sister jealous! Don’t ever compare siblings: No wonder so many people are constantly comparing what they have to others and are filled with jealousy. In all conversations, if a topic of another sibling comes up, you can say, “But we’re not worried about your brother right now; we’re talking about you.” And of course, always empathize and always listen.

The most important lesson I got from this book is to not compare siblings. Here is Montessori on how comparing is a terrible way to motivate children:

But emulation can only avail among equals. When ‘competitions’ take place, ‘champions’ are chosen. To a deficient child, the example of a clever companion is merely humiliating; his inferiority, his impotence are perpetually cast in his teeth by the victorious career of his comrade. He becomes more and more discouraged as the zealous teacher scolds and punishes him for his weakness and points out the radiant example offered by the strong. What would give him a ray of light, a glimpse of hope, would be for him to see the possibility of doing something within the limits of his own powers which might, nevertheless have a value of its own; to penetrate into some sphere where he too might compete with some one and be encouraged. Then he would be like others, he would be exhilarated and comforted; and the feeble flower within him might expand. He has infinitely greater need of encouragement, solace, and external stimuli to excite him to activity than the normal child.

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