Siblings Without Rivalry By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish W.W. Norton and Co., 219 pp. $14.95
This book already appears to be a winner. Its appearance in August on The Washington Post's and on the New York Times' best-seller lists must mean that many parents are having problems coping with sibling tension. But no matter how loud brothers and sisters may be screaming, this is not a book to be read by itself.
The authors acknowledge at the very beginning that while they were working on their previous best-seller, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk," that their chapter on sibling rivalry kept getting longer and longer and thus was born the sequel. While the concepts presented here could be followed on their own, the underlying skills of how to listen to a child from "How to Talk" are necessary to take total advantage of the special sibling techniques explained by the authors.
Faber's and Mazlish's inspiration comes from the late Dr. Haim G. Ginott, whose own best-seller, "Between Parent and Child," was first published in 1965. After spending five years in Dr. Ginott's parent workshop, the authors wrote "Liberated Parents/Liberated Children," a very human account of how parents in the group modified their attitudes and reactions to their children, which in turn brought about remarkable behavioral changes.
Ginott/Faber/Mazlish's basic message is for parents to respect what their children are saying. To accomplish this, parents need to listen carefully to what their children are saying, to value what they are hearing even though they may not like it and to acknowledge their children's emotions. By being taken seriously, the authors maintain, the children will be less likely to take their negative emotions "underground" to be acted out in more aggressive ways. "Insisting upon good feelings between children led to bad feelings. Allowing for bad feelings between children led to good feelings," the authors write immediately before taking the reader into the meat of the book.
For "Siblings," Faber and Mazlish taped hundreds of hours of interviews with men, women and children from age 3 to 88 and also ran several parent group sessions consisting of eight meetings each. The book then follows along the lines of the eight sessions, with many quotes, stories, arguments and questions from participants.
Some of the topics covered include reasons not to compare children, why trying to be fair will never work, how parents put their children into roles that may limit them, and when and how to intervene in a physical fight and still help the siblings solve the problem themselves. The book is filled with practical advice on appropriate responses to children's hostilities between each other, whether verbal or physical.
There are several reasons why this is such a readable book. First, Faber's and Mazlish's style is breezy and friendly. At the end of most chapters is a "quick reminder" that emphasizes the important points in the chapter and gives an example of what to say. Cartoons illustrating exactly what to say and how to say it also stress the way to elicit appropriate responses from children. These usually cover several age groups, so that parents with toddlers to teens have an idea of how to handle a problem. And the most endearing feature of all are stories about the authors' own failings with their children.
If the authors' own disasters can be reassuring, they can also be frightening. They participated for five years in one of Dr. Ginott's parents' groups; they run workshops on parenting and give lectures; they have marketed their workshops into kits used by thousands of parents' groups across the country. A reader might wonder what he or she can hope to accomplish, if the authors, with their expertise, make mistakes, too. However, the book is filled with such reassurance that a reader is convinced by the end of the first quick reading that he or she can do it, too.
Will a method that insists that siblings need to have their feelings about each other acknowledged, that each child should be treated uniquely -- not equally -- and that parents should not lock a child into a certain role truly help siblings appreciate the differences between each other and help them live peaceably side by side? The authors say unequivocally, yes!
But this method puts an unbelievable burden on the parents. While parents would like to think they have a lot of control over what their children see and hear, that simply not always the case. Comparisons are not only made at home, they can be heard anywhere. Name calling does not just happen at the dinner table; children use them in the schoolyard and in the park. And no matter how correct a parent might be in his or her statement to a child, the youngster may not respond as perfectly as the ones in the drawings. As a matter of fact, the child may not respond at all.
And most troubling was the authors' quick dismissal of any thought that nature may have something to do with temperament. They devoted only a few paragraphs in the entire book to the question of built-in personalities of children, while research continues to affirm a genetic basis for personality traits. Surely no one would argue with the authors' assertion that parents have the power to influence these characteristics, but by so easily brushing aside the issue of inborn ways of looking at the world (and thus siblings), the authors leave the readers confused and a little helpless in dealing with some very complicated issues.Author's Lecture
Adele Faber will give a lecture Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. at Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church in Northwest Washington. Admission is $6 advance, $7.50 at the door. Lowell School, sponsor of the lecture, will also offer a workshop Nov. 11, 9 a.m.-noon. For more information about both events, call 587-3227. Susan Butler, a mother of four and a sibling of two older brothers, is executive director of the Best Products Foundation in Washington.