Book Review: Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings
“Kids fighting constantly…more than just bickering! Kicking, hitting, biting and screaming!” -Mom of 2, ages 2 and 4
“Sibling fighting and aggression. When do I intervene and when should I ignore it?” -Mom of 3, ages 2, 4, and 5
These were two of the replies I received when I asked teleclass participants to tell me their #1 parenting struggles.
If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that sibling rivalry is alive and well in my home, too. That’s why I was excited to read the new book by Dr. Laura Markham of AhaParenting.com this past week. I found it helpful and thought it would be worth spending a blog post sharing what I learned. (FYI, I don't know Dr. Markham personally, and no one asked me to read or write about her books.)
Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings emphasizes the same core concepts introduced in Dr. Markham’s first book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. These main ideas include regulating our emotions as parents, connecting deeply with each child, and coaching kids rather than controlling them.
I felt reassured when I read, “Research shows that if you have a positive relationship with each of your children, they’re much more likely to have a positive relationship with each other.”
But that’s not to say that we can just focus on our interactions with each individual child and ignore the sibling relationship. In fact, Dr. Markham explains that the reason why research shows that siblings fight less without parental intervention is that when parents let kids “work it out on their own,” the majority of quarrels end up with the weaker sibling surrendering to the more powerful one.
However, she also explains that the way in which many parents usually intervene (taking sides, punishing, and taking control of the situation) actually fosters more sibling rivalry.
So what’s the solution?
First, we need to stay calm. As I’ve said many times before, our emotional reactivity only makes situations worse by bringing about the very outcomes we hope to avoid. Dr. Markham explains that parents who remain calm and approach conflict more peacefully have kids who tend to be kinder to one another. Modeling calm problem-solving is the best way to teach it to our kids.
Second, much of sibling jealousy has to do with kids feeling that they aren’t as special or important to us as their brothers or sisters. We can prevent these types of feelings by creating strong and supportive bonds with each of our children and working to maintain them on a daily basis.
Many of the tips she shares involve reconnecting with your kids after you’ve been apart and using empathy to join with them and help them feel understood. She also encourages using fantasy and being playful, and discourages comparing kids to one another or using labels of any kind to describe them. (For more detailed explanations of these tools, the links in this paragraph will bring you to my previous posts that focus on each topic separately.)
Dr. Markham argues against punishment as an effective way to discipline and says that “the way you discipline your child becomes her model for working out interpersonal problems.” She points out research that shows punitive parents have more aggressive kids.
What we need to do, then, is to teach our kids effective problem-solving skills while showing them compassion and understanding for their underlying feelings and needs.
Dr. Markham’s book has lots of examples, tips, and scripts to use with young children. Though the concepts and skills are transferrable to older kids and teens, it’s primarily geared toward parents of toddlers and preschoolers.
She also features an extremely detailed section on bringing new siblings into the family, including how and when to tell your child he’s going to have a sibling, ways to foster sibling bonding during pregnancy, and staying connected to the older sibling and dealing with his feelings as the baby gets older.
Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings would make a fantastic gift for someone who’s expecting a second or third child. If you'd like to purchase it through any of my Amazon affiliate links, LDMM will get a tiny percentage.
Make no mistake – helping siblings get along is hard work. Quite possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But from personal experience, I know it can be one of the most rewarding relationships in a person's life.
Have you read Dr. Markham's book? What did you learn? How do you deal with sibling rivalry in your own family? Leave a comment below.