Since the beginning of our school (13 years ago!) we have been conducting bi-annual book clubs for parents. We read a variety of parenting books on a variety of particular subjects and I always learn as much from the book as I do from our gatherings. I appreciate using a brainstorm method, where paper gets passed around a group and different people's ideas get recorded, because it allows for quieter people to get their ideas across, and a better distributed participation from the group. We take turns reading the papers we have passed around which also allows for all voiced to be heard and keeps the discussion centered around the reading.
"Siblings Without Rivalry" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish was chosen because this year we have 5 sets of siblings concurrently in our classroom. This means the children are exposed the whole day to each other in at least two different environments.
We took a month to read the book and came together last Saturday to discuss the reading at school.
We started our session with a personal reflection:
How many of us are siblings? How many siblings were in our household? Was our birth order important in how our roles were formed at home? Did our birth order inform our parents way of raising us?
What was the role cast to us by our parent? By our siblings? What role did we carve out for ourselves?
Are we still perceived that way by our parents? By our siblings? Has that changed? How?
How do we wish we had been perceived if we wish we’d been seen differently?
Is there anything we wish was different about our current relationship with our siblings that was directly caused by our early years?
We then reflected on our own parenting:
What roles do we currently assign to our children?
How do our children see themselves, what roles do they put themselves into?
How are those roles encouraged or affirmed by different family members?
We then moved to a collective brainstorm of study questions I had chosen for us. We each had a clipboard with one question written at the top and were asked to answer it, and then pass the clipboard along to the next person. There were 9 of us, so at the end of the exercise there were 9 separate answerswritten on each clipboard. We took turns reading what everyone had written and discussing it further.
Following is a transcript of the written answers provided in the exercise, which we expanded on in discussion.
1. How can we help children solve their own problems?
By giving them enough time to solve them and giving them the opportunity to each give their version of what happened. If they still don’t have a solution, you can state the facts of what you see and offer some ideas for solutions. Giving attention to the injured party instead of the aggressor puts emphasis on
caring for each other instead of punishing whoever did something wrong. Being an example of a problem solver (solving problems between us when they happen) is a way to help as well.
Acknowledge each person’s feelings when the problems occur, so that they feel firstly heard. And be confident that they CAN solve their problems, even young children can do this. Remember it’s not OUR problem, so we don’t have to take responsibility for it.
2. What can we do when children fight?
Hard and acknowledge each child’s version of what happened. State what you see. Don’t take sides. Be calm before stepping in. If they are very worked up, separate them and once they are calm bring them back together and listen to each child. Don’t have a huge reaction unless there’s danger.3. What is an idea from the book that you might try at home? Describing what you see when there is a problem. Treating children uniquely, not equally. Use words to describe children’s feelings. Stop comparing the children. Treat them uniquely and not equally, instead of showing equal love, show children they are loved uniquely. Acknowledge their feelings and refrain from taking sides when issues arise. Treat them as individuals with their own needs. Letting there be more space for negative feelings. Discuss our perceived roles openly, that way the roles may lose their power over us. Become aware of the roles we place on children and try to allow them to be different and change and be themselves.
4. What did your parents do that drove you and your siblings apart?
Praise one child and not the other. Compare children’s ability. Always being looked down on because of being oldest and having to take responsibility for what the others did. Was not allowed to make mistakes. Academic ability and ability at school was compared. Venting thoughts about another sibling felt like gossip. Spoke negatively about our siblings openly. Established constricted roles. Trusted in older siblings but not in younger ones. Treated us very differently depending on our gender.
5. What did your parents do that pulled you and your siblings together?
We had dinner together. Allowed us to have lots of friends over that we shared among siblings.
Vacations together. Going out together with friends. Going out to dinners and lunches together. Made us share bedroom our whole life. Family night with board games was always nice. “Happy hour” when
we were together and “were happy”. Left us siblings along a lot of the time, we have to solve our own problems because nobody was there to help, that kept us from doing dangerous and stupid things. A lot of time together at grandparents house (our roles were different with our grandparents). No phone allowed rules at the table.
6. What was one story from the book that you identified with?
Not to give the attention to the aggressor. “Not until all the bad feelings come out can the good ones come in.” Giving the children roles without being aware of it. Letting them express all their negative feelings without censoring (The Story of the New Wife). How to talk to the child instead of compare (the illustrations). The role my parents gave me is still affecting me today. How much sibling
relationships defined adult insecurities and self perception.
7. How can comparing children (whether favorably or unfavorably) affect them?
It is harmful to their relationship. It can program the child to think that they might be good at something but that there’s always someone who can do better. When you say something positive it still feels like a judgment and puts pressure on them to perform for your approval. It affects how they see themselves. Can create a lot of rivalry between children. It can create long term self esteem issues.
They may feel that they always have to be a certain way for you to love them.
8. Why is equal treatment not better?
Children’s needs are different. If we offer equal treatment it may cause children to fight to always get “the same” although it might not be what they actually want or need. It puts the emphasis on equal instead of what is needed. Because more importantly everyone wants to be individually recognized, equal undermines uniqueness.
9. How can we free children from the roles we and others impose on them?
Firstly by being aware of the roles we are limiting them to. By allowing them to be different and to make mistakes. Trying to appreciate their individual characters and actions. Try to be aware of our gender and birth order biases, reflect on how things were for us as children, make an effort to change.
Talk to them about it, be open and listen. Childhood affects adulthood, self reflection is key.
How do imposed roles affect children’s relationship with each other?
Why is it important to let children express negative feelings about their siblings?
What can we do instead of comparing children?