Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Apr 14, 2014

There are some days when I feel like I'm going crazy.

Amend that.

Most days I feel like I'm going crazy.

And nothing sends me into crazy mode faster than hearing my kids scream and cry and yell at each other . . . and then tattle it all to me. Before I had kids, I never would have guessed that a five-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old could have perfected the art of fighting so well, nor that the two-year-old could be the root of 85% of the problems.

Care to listen in on a typical drive to school in the morning?

Maxwell: [humming to himself]

Bradley: I don't LIKE that!

Maxwell: [continues humming, a little louder, now that he knows he has an irritated audience]

Bradley [volume increasing]: I DON'T LIKE THAT!!! [primitive noises erupt]

Maxwell: I'm just singing.

Bradley: NOOOOOOO! Stop that right now!

Maxwell: Stop screaming! [begins imitating the primitive noises]

[A battle of screams, growls, and roars ensues.]

I pull the car over until the screaming stops. We continue on our (seven-minute) drive.

Maxwell: [looking at a book]

Bradley: That's my book! Max, give it to me! [primitive noises erupt]

Etc., etc. etc.

I know sibling rivalry is normal. Trust me. I have five brothers and two sisters. But somehow, it feels so different on the parental side. I feel responsible for my children developing good feelings toward each other. And, I'll be honest, the bickering really wears on me until I succumb to primitive noises myself.

I turned to this book in a moment of desperation inspiration. I just wanted one good idea, maybe two, that I could implement right now and bring some peace into our home. 

This is exactly what I was looking for: it was easy to read, practical, and not research-based. (Sometimes I want a lot of data, but not this time. I wanted to know what real parents were doing, not what science said they should do.)

The book is organized as if you're listening in on a seven-week parent workshop. Each chapter is another nightly session beginning with follow-up on the session from last week, discussing in detail a new subtopic complete with strategies and role-playing,  and ending with goals for the upcoming week. I've never read a parenting book with quite this format, and I loved it. It was so accessible to me.

The material for the book is taken from actual workshops given by authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They discuss such issues as the danger of comparisons, the impossibility of making everything equal, and what to do when all else fails. Many of the discussions are accompanied by comic-style illustrations, which I found surprisingly helpful.

However, the real test has come as I've tried to actually apply some of what I learned.

And gosh, it's hard!

When the screaming and scratching and hitting begins, my mind begins to race and then goes completely blank. All I can hear is the screaming, screaming, screaming. I can't remember what I'm supposed to do, and suddenly the situation I'm dealing with seems like it doesn't resemble anything in the book. I resort to my usual, "Stop that right now! Do you hear me? Stop that!!! Okay, you there, go to your room!" And that technique has obviously proven to work so well (not).

So for the time being, I'm just going to choose three techniques I can use to handle some of the problems. Sure, they won't take care of everything, but if I try to fix it all in one fell swoop, I know I won't end up fixing anything. 

It always helps if I write out my intentions, so here they are:
  • When one of them hits (or bites) (or scratches): "Hitting is never acceptable. You two need to spend some time apart, and then you can try playing together again." Escort them to separate rooms in the house, not necessarily for a time out, but just for some much-needed alone time.
  • When they are all clamoring for my attention at the same time: "Aaron, will you help Bradley put on his shoes? Maxwell, will you go turn off the lights downstairs so we can leave?" I've noticed my kids' behavior changes instantly when they feel like their help is valued and needed. It immediately changes the mood in the room when they are doing things I can praise them for.
  • When they are engaged in a screaming contest: "Bradley, I can see that you really want Max to stop singing. Is that right? Max, I can tell that you want to continue your song." Sometimes, acknowledging their feelings will solve the problem by itself. But if it doesn't, then, "Can you boys come up with a solution, or do I need to help you?" I feel kind of silly writing that, like my two-year-old will really be able to come up with a "solution" on his own? But I have noticed that he already knows kind words are more effective than screams and that he would rather be with his brothers than away from them. I think I need to give them more trust to work things out on their own but then also be willing to give some of my time to help them come to a peaceful resolution instead of just being so quick to yell and punish.
Mike is also reading this book. When he's done with it (or maybe at the halfway point), we'll discuss other things we can do to remedy some of the fighting. It always helps when we're using the same techniques to achieve the same goals. Our kids feel that unity, and we feel empowered because we're not trying to solve all the problems alone.

One of the most helpful parts of the book for me was the afterword. The authors wrote this section years later after they'd given many more workshops and heard the problems and solutions of many more parents. They devoted much of this section to the unique problems of young children, which is exactly what I needed. They shared many stories and examples, and each one demonstrated a creative application of something mentioned earlier. The suggestions themselves were so good, but then it also made me realize that there are a million different ways for me to help my kids live peacefully with each other.

I've probably given the impression that our home is one constant fight after another, but it isn't. In fact, most of the time I am so happy my kids are so close in age because they play so well together. But there are moments every day when I feel that peace disrupted and our irritation and frustration with each other escalate. I really hate those moments, and that is why I felt like this book was a great investment of my time.


  1. I'm pretty sure you were describing my home. I'm going to read this book!

  2. I read this book 17 or 18 years ago and I loved it. So helpful. Another one that really helped me a lot was How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk. It helped me realize that sometimes when my 3 year old was at her absolute worst - at the moment when I least felt like giving it - what she really needed was a hug, to be recognized and reminded that she was loved and valued. It worked like magic. I also remember the title of Loving Each One Best... so I know I read it... but can't remember what I gleaned from it :)

    1. Susanna - that is truly excellent advice. It's so difficult for me to remember when my kids are being so naughty, but you are right: usually all they need is a little love, and they will calm right down. Thanks so much for the reminder!!!


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