Continuing with our Dhul Qa'dah theme of Sibling Rivalry, part 2 of the summary for the Siblings Without Rivalry Book (by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish). Read part 1 here.
Chapter 5 - Siblings in Roles
Sometimes, as parents, we have our children pegged, locked into their role. It can be due to a disability, due to a special talent, due to their birth order, or due to roles we had ourselves growing up. What drives the roles?
- The parent's misguided need to bolster a child's ego, even at his sibling's expense.
- The parent's misguided need to bolster their own egos.
- Parents tend to project our own weaknesses onto our children.
- Parents enjoy the idea that we've got each child figured out.
- We put our children in different roles because we want each of them to feel special.
- Kids put themselves in roles too.
- Kids push each each other into roles too.
Roles can be great for the privileged child, but the other siblings automatically become second rate. Even for the privileged child, though, it can be a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations of a certain role. And once the roles are set, siblings seem to play out their parts almost compulsively, even into adulthood.
Children are born with different personality traits. But as parents we have the power to influence those traits, to give a helping hand. Let's use our power wisely, by not placing our children in roles that will defeat them.
It may be possible to have a family where each siblng's role somehow meshes smoothly with the others, and the whole family functions as a harmonious unit. However, as we seek to prepare our children for life outside the family, we realise that life requires us to assume many roles - we need to be able to show care, and be cared for; to lead, and to follow; to be serious, and a little crazy; to live with disorder, and to create order. By boxing our children into a specific role, we can be limiting them. We should encourage them all to take changes, explore their potential, discover their strengths which they may not even realise they have.
In a conflict situation, instead of giving attention to the aggressor, rather attend to the injured party. If an older brother attacks the younger sister, attend to the sister, without attacking the brother.
Ïnstead of this: Child 1: She bit me! Adult (to Child 2): What's going on here? How many times do I have to tell you not to do that? You’re to leave your sister alone. You come with me, I can’t trust you.
Rather try: Child She bit me! Adult (to Child 1): Bit you! Let me see. Oh, it’s all red. That must hurt. People are not for biting. Your sister needs to learn to ask for what she wants with words. Even when she’s angry.
In the family, nobody should lock anyone into a specific role - the parents shouldn't, nor should the siblings, and the child himself / herself should also not lock themselves into a specific role. We should treat our children, not as they are, but as we hoped they'd become.
Not giving anyone the role of a bully - free the bully to be compassionate:
Instead of the parent treating the child as a bully ('Stop it, you're being a bully."), rather help him see that he's capable of being civil ("No fighting - you know how to get what you need without using physical force.")
Instead of the other siblings treating him as a bully (Child to parent: "He's mean."), rather give the siblings a new view of their brother ("He knows how to be nice too, and ask for what he wants in a friendly way.")
Instead of the child seeing himself as a bully (Child to sibling: "I'm a meanie."), rather help him see his capacity for kindness ("You also know how to be a 'kindee,' and I expect it to start right now.")
Not giving anyone the role of a victim - free the victim to be strong:
Instead of the parent treating the child as a victim (Child: She said I have to share my new doll; Adult: Poor baby, is your sister being mean again?), rather show her how to stand up for herself (Adult: "You can tell your brother 'Daddy bought it for me. It's mine. I decide if I want to share it.")
Instead of the other siblings treating him as a victim (Children: Let's tell her there's poison in the ice cream, then we can have it), rather give the siblings a new view of their sister (Adult: Save your breath, kids. Your sister is too strong to be conned out of her ice cream).
Instead of the child seeing herself as a victim (Child: "Mum, he's making ugly faces, I'm scared"; Adult: Stop that, you know your sister is easily frightened), rather help her see her potential strength (Adult: I'll bet you could make a real ugly face back at him if you want to.)
Children with 'problems' do not need to be viewed as problem children
This can include children who are terminally ill, or have any form of disability, but is not limited to this. If one child is viewed as a 'problem' child, certain dynamics go into motion:
- The 'problem' child can become more of a 'problem'.
- The burdened parent begins to make demands upon the 'normal' children to compensate for the 'problem' child.
- The needs of the 'normal' siblings are brushed aside.
- The 'normal' siblings begin to resent the 'problem' child.
We should not put children in roles and should instead see them as whole people - it shouldn't be any different with a child who's handicapped or sickly - they are more than just their illnesses. Even children with serious 'problems' can do a lot more than we give them credit for.
These children with 'problems' need:
1. Acceptance of their frustration
2. Appreciation for what they have accomplished
3. Help in focusing on solutions
Instead of focusing on their disabilities, focus on their abilities:
- Instead of (Child: That's too fast; Adult: Be careful with that ball, you know your sister isn't strong); rather say: "Hey you almost caught it and that was a fast ball."
- Instead of (Child: And the dog b..b..... I can't read this, I'm dumb; Adult: You're not dumb, you have a reading disability); rather say: Adult: Reading can be hard. The word rhymes with parked; Child: Oh, then it's parked.
- Instead of (Child: Dad, he's pulling out his hair; Adult: Cut it out, you're acting crazy!), rather: Adult: that is so frustrating when you work out part of a puzzle and get stuck.
It's up to the parent to set the tone - to make it clear that no one in the family is 'the problem.' Some children might have greater needs or challenges, but they all need to be accepted as they are and each is capable of growth and change. Family members need to believe in themselves, believe in each other and support each other, like a team. Because that's what being a family is all about.
Children with special talents
If one child is particularly talented at something, the others may be discouraged from even trying that thing. In this way, there may be many children cheated of their rightful opportunities because of a sibling's special prowess. It's true that certain children do have great natural gifts, which should be recognised and encouraged, but not at the expense of the other siblings. Be on guard about excluding others from that area, and be wary of statements such as "He's the athlete in the family"... "She's the smart one"..."He's the artist." We want to make it clear to each child that the joys of scholarship, drama, poetry, sport, etc are for everyone, and not reserved for those who have a special aptitude. Our chldren should be free to become their most whole self.
Chapter 6 - When the Kids Fight
How to intervene helpfully in the children's fights, when we feel we must.
Some unhelpful responses to kids who are fighting
These will lead to more frustration and resentment between them, as shown below:
1. "Stop it you two!" (each child will think that if they stop, the other child will get their way)
2. "Who started it? The truth, now!" (they'll just accuse each other)
3. "Shame on you - fighting over some little toys - everytime I look at you too, you're squabbling!" (they will blame each other and argue over who had it first)
4. "I swear you two are giving me a headache" (they may feel you always say that or may feel bad for making you sick)
5. "You're too old for these toys - give them to your sister and find something else to play with." (older child feels it's unfair and younger child feels like the parent always sticks up for her).
6. "Why can't you both share? You'll see - you'll have more fun if you play together." (they'll either tend to resist the idea or the one who intervened play will feel she got her way).
7. "I'm taking these toys away and you can both go to your rooms." (one child will resent the other for spoiling it, the other child may feel chuffed that the other can't play either).
1. Start by acknowledging the children's anger towards each other. That alone should help calm them.
2. Listen to each child's side with respect.
3. Show appreciation for the difficulty of the problem.
4. Express faith in their ability to work out a mutually agreeable solution.
5. Leave the room
Ignore - think of your next vacation - tell yourself the children are having an important lesson in conflict resolution.
Situation heating up - adult intervention might be helpful
Acknowledge their anger. Reflect each child’s point of view. Describe the problem with respect. Express confidence in the children’s ability to find their own solution. Leave the room. (Note: if they don't know how to resolve it - casually offer a simple suggestion or two before you leave).
Example: You two sound mad at each other! So Sara, you want to keep on holding the puppy because he’s just settled down in your arms. And Billy, you feel you’re entitled to a turn, too.That’s a tough one: two children and only one puppy.I have confidence that you two can work out a solution that’s fair to each of you and fair to the puppy.
Situation possibly dangerous
Inquire if it's a play fight or real fight (don't always assume it's normal for kids to fight, one child may not see it as a play fight and that alone is enough for it to be stopped - play fighting should only be allowed by mutual consent). Let the children know. Respect your feelings.
Remember - when you intervene - it's not for the purpose of settling the argument or making a judgement, but to open the blocked channels of communication so that they can go back to dealing with each other.
Example: Is this a play fight or a real fight? (Play fights are permitted. Real fights are not.) Play fighting by mutual consent only. (If it’s not fun for both, it’s got to stop.) You may be playing, but it’s too rough for me. You need to find another activity.
Situation definitely dangerous! Adult intervention necessary.
Situation definitely dangerous! Adult intervention necessary.
Example: I see two very angry children who are about to hurt each other.It’s not safe to be together. We must have a cooling-off period. Quick, you to your room, and you to yours.
When the children can’t work out a difficult problem by themselves:
- Call a meeting of the antagonists. Explain the purpose and the ground rules.
- Write down each child’s feelings and concerns, and read them aloud.
- Allow time for rebuttal.
- Invite everyone to come up with solutions. Write down all ideas without evaluating.
- Decide upon the solution you all can live with.
- Follow-up (another meeting later).
Property rights: How to give support to the child who asks for it without taking sides
State each child’s case. State the value or rule. Leave the doorway open for the possibility of negotiation.
Example: Let me get this straight. Jimmy, you need the crayons to finish your homework. And Amy, you want to finish colouring. Homework assignments get top priority.But Jimmy, if you want to work something out with your sister, that’s up to you.
Whether you as the parent make the final decision in favour of the property owner or the 'have not' - one child will feel like they've won, while the other feels they've lost.
It's not as simple as saying "share" or "don't share" - it's about making it clear that property rights must be respect, which is a principle that protects both children. By protecting the property owner's rights, it makes it possible for them to consider lending the item to the other child.
Children should be encouraged to share, and for very practical reasons (in this world we will need to share goods, space, themselves) plus for spiritual reasons (we want our children to experience the pleasure and goodness that comes from voluntary giving). Making children share, however, only makes them clutch their possessions more tightly. Forced sharing undermines goodwill. By making the decision for them, the children end up becoming more dependent upon the parent and more hostile towards their siblings.
How to encourage sharing without forcing it
1. By putting the children in charge of the sharing ("I bought one bottle for everyone - what's the best way to share it?")
2. By pointing out the advantages of sharing. ("You will both be able to use each other's.")
3. By allowing time for inner process. ("She'll let you know when she's ready to share.")
4. By showing appreciation for sharing when it occurs spontaneously. ("Thank you for sharing your cookie with me.")
5. By modelling sharing yourself.
As mentioned, these posts are merely a summary of the book (Siblings Without Rivalry), which is filled with practical examples to demonstrate the principles, and a lot more beneficial advice for managing sibling relationships. Other topics covered include, but are not limited to:
1. How to deal with tattle tales
2. How to avoid sibling rivalry from a very young age
3. More on property rights
4. Should one child be punished for hurting the other
5. When children have to be left alone (e.g. while parents work)
6. More ways to encourage good feelings between brothers and sisters
7. Additional reading list
I really pray these posts are beneficial to you and your family, that your children have harmonious relationships with each other and there is a beautiful peace within your family unit. Ameen.