The Expert Parent on sibling rivalry
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The Expert Parent on sibling rivalry

Who to write, call or e-mail with your parenting questions.


Q: My two young children are constantly arguing. Is this normal? How can I help them deal with sibling rivalry so life isn't always an argument?

A: Be reassured that your children are perfectly normal. You'd probably worry if they didn't ever fight.

Most parents soon come to realize that sibling rivalry is a natural and inevitable part of life with children. The only surefire way to avoid it is to have an only child. Spending so much time together can not only bond brothers and sisters, it can also cause the usual conflicts over toys and TV time, as well as competition for their parents' love and attention.

The good news is that it doesn't have to turn your home into a constant battlefield. "Sibling rivalry can be a headache, or an opportunity to teach children the life skills they'll need in all their relationships," says Adele Faber, coauthor of the best-selling "Siblings Without Rivalry" (Avon). Daily dealings with a sibling and the inevitable squabbles help children learn how to negotiate, compromise, respect others and how to be a good friend, she says.

Don't take sides when your children are having a fight, Faber says. Instead, "State, 'Wow! We have a real problem here. Sally, you're angry because Bobby took your car. Bobby, you really wanted that car.' Acknowledging their feelings cools them down immediately," she says. "Then ask, 'What can you two do to work it out? Think it over and let me know what you come up with.'"

Faber's key advice: "Learn to stay out of normal long as no one is getting physically or verbally hurt. You'd be amazed how kids can work things out themselves when given the chance." Here are some books you can read for solutions to everyday sibling scenarios so you help smooth the way to family harmony and those you can read with your children to help them work out some of their issues or just to let them know they're not alone in their feelings.

Books on brotherly (and sisterly) love

Siblings Without Rivalry : How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Avon) This handy bestseller -- probably the Bible on this subject -- is filled with practical advice and real life scenarios with a main message: avoid comparisons and treat each child "uniquely" not equally. Faber and Mazlish work through dozens of different situations and outcomes to help you and your offspring learn a new set of responses, skills and techniques in how to deal with this age-old problem.

Beyond Sibling Rivalry : How to Help Your Children Become Cooperative, Caring and Compassionate By Peter Goldenthal (Henry Holt & Co.) Goldenthal, a practicing psychologist specializing in sibling and family relationships, provides a positive-parenting text that considers children's relationships with each other in the context of the family as a whole. Goldenthal gives parents easy-to-follow guidelines and tools for solving common and not-so-common sibling conflicts.

Brothers and Sisters : Born to Bicker? By Pamela Shires Sneddon (Enslow Publishers) Grades 6-10 This book, in the Teen Issues series, focuses on the interaction between brothers and sisters: and how it relates to how teens feel about themselves, as well as how they relate to others throughout their lives. Sneddon offers helpful suggestions on negotiating with siblings and sharing special moments, plus a list of support groups.

I'm Furious (Dealing With Feelings) By Elizabeth Crary (Parenting Press) Ages 4-8 When Matt's little brother ruins his favorite baseball card, Matt just wants to knock him flat. Then his mom lets him know it's OK to be mad and helps him discover some ways to express his anger without hurting his brother or being destructive. This book helps children to see that their emotions are valid, but that they can be in control of the results of those emotions.

The Blushful Hippopotamus By Chris Raschka (Orchard Books) ages 4-8 Despite his older sister's bullying, young Roosevelt the hippo learns to appreciate his good qualities, with the help of his trusty bird friend Lombard. A story of growth and friendship and how to boost your self-esteem when a sibling constantly puts you down.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother By Patricia Polacco (Aladdin) ages 5-8 There's nothing worse than a rotten, redheaded brother who can do everything better than you. Worst of all, he's four years older, "always has been and always will be." Children will enjoy the teasing and constant contests between these two siblings. A lively tale of comic one-upmanship and brotherly love.