Siblings without Rivalry (Ch. 2): Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out

[This is the third in a series of posts for A Living Family online Book Club on the book Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Whether you are reading with us, have read the book already, or can’t get your hands on a copy, please join the discussion!]

Consider the following (and please discuss in the comments):

An exercise for developing understanding for what our children might be feeling when they act “less than loving”:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.”

The exercise goes on to imagine how you feel when others ooh and aah over the new addition: “How do you like the new wife?” Other scenarios are giving away your things, the “new wife” being better at something or doing something more easily, sharing and other situations in which older siblings may feel threatened.

This chapter also covered some feelings younger siblings might have, from “hurt and confused by rejection” to “feeling the need to challenge older ones” to feeling discouraged about not being able to “catch up.”

How do you generally react/respond to the actions, words and behaviors that trouble you in your children?

Say that your child actually says what they might be feeling: “I don’t want that person in this house anymore. It’s making me very unhappy. Why can’t you get rid of her/him?”

Next comes an exploration (by the adults in the parent group) of the reactions a child might have to some of the following common responses from their parents:

  • “You have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “You make me very angry when you talk like that.
  • “I don’t want to hear it.”
  • “We’re a family now.”
  • “Find a way to get along and don’t come running to me with every little thing.”
  • “I thought you’d like some companionship.”
  • “There is enough love in my heart for both of you.”

The adults cited feelings such as “guilty,” “defeated,” “powerless,” and “abandoned.” Some said they would come to the conclusion they are a bad person or unacceptable (as “the real me”). Overwhelmingly, the adults found that they felt like hurting or punishing the “new wife” or getting them into trouble, even at the cost of their physical safety or parental adoration.

The chapter closes with the parent group sharing how they would feel when adults simply acknowledged feelings. A distinction was made between “allowing feelings” and “allowing actions.”

“We permit children to express all their feelings. We don’t permit them to hurt each other. Our job is to show them how to express their anger without doing damage.”

How might your respond differently if your first focus was on acknowledging the thoughts and feelings your children may have?

The cartoons in this chapter outline some approaches towards acknowledging feelings (with words, wishes or creative expression) that can be helpful in the heat of the moment:

  • Put feelings into words. (“You sound angry!”)
  • Express what the child might wish. (“You wish he would ask before using your things.”)
  • Encourage creative expression. (“Can you show me your feelings with your doll?”)
  • Show better ways to express anger. (“Instead of name calling, tell him what you feel or what you would like.”)

Big Takeaways:

Insisting upon good feelings between the children led to bad feelings.

Acknowledging bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.


  • Use this week to continue your observations as you increase your efforts to acknowledge feelings and empathize. This is not problem solving so much as a “simple” acknowledgement of what each child might be feeling in the moment.
  • Please take some time to take notes or jot down your thoughts about the above questions. When you are ready (and willing), please share some of your thoughts here so that we may learn from each other, grow together and move forward, collectively, as mothers and fathers and caregivers.


NEXT UP: The Perils of Comparison 


One response to this post.

  1. […] Book Club « Siblings without Rivalry (Ch. 2): Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out […]


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