Understanding Sibling Rivalry: The Brazelton Way is written by doctors T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D.
Sparrow, both well-respected professors and practitioners concerned with children’s emotional health
and development. You’ve most probably seen Dr. Brazelton on television – he’s got a soft-spoken, Mr.
Rogers vibe about him, makes frequent appearances on the morning news/entertainment shows, and hosted his own show based on his book What Every Child Knows
back in the 1980s. Brazelton and Sparrow have written many books for parents of young children, covering every topic from toilet training to discipline, and Brazelton’s Touchpoints series, which is considered one of the most thorough measures of child development to have been published in the last two decades.
Having these two acclaimed authors tackle something as important as sibling rivalry is a great boon for parents, especially those trying to survive the
"I don’t want it, but he can’t have it either" years.
Full of valuable insights, Understanding Sibling Rivalry: The Brazelton Way does tend to edge a bit into "the Brazelton way is the best/only way" territory, which, while not unexpected, can sometimes feel a bit preachy – or, as my brother said when I read a passage to him, "too touchy-feely." It may just be "touchy-feely," but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. The only true downfall I saw as I was reading was that there is no immediate help section – nothing you can just flip to, say, when your children are bickering over a particular seat on the floor (again!), and reread and say "Oh, that’s exactly how I should deal with this." All of the tools are there, though, so it’s just the lack of a handy answer key (something parenting books are all sadly lacking) that I’m lamenting.
The best aspect of the book is the range of specific and individual situations that are explored by the
authors: They talk about the challenges and benefits of being the older, younger, or middle child, and how to best help each of them understand their roles in the family. There’s a section on when a child is seriously ill and the feelings that stirs up in any well children, as well as the feelings of the child with the illness. They talk about stepfamilies and adoptive
and adopted siblings; they don’t just lump all families into one category, all children under the heading of
"children", then expect that what they’ve said will apply to everyone.
Another highlight of the book is the assumption that "sibling rivalry is natural and unavoidable, though parents can either make it worse or help keep it from escalating, (107)" which I think is a key to understanding how the relationships of children develop. The authors discuss the importance of allowing your children to experience their relationship without your input,
but suggest that you stay close enough during their first independent
experiences to ensure that no one could be seriously harmed. After all, if the
goal is for them to be able to have a bond as siblings, then giving them
opportunities to work things out among themselves – while still providing support and boundaries - is essential.
They also highlight the pitfalls of comparison and having a "favorite"; the need for different approaches with individual children; and the times to use public discipline (for groups) and the times to save it until you're one-on-one (when you're only directing the discipline toward one child). They present a new perspective on the
"dreaded issue of room sharing" and explain how often adults mistakenly assume that children will just adapt accordingly (and quickly) to major changes in their lives – and how to help them through that process.
I’d call this book a refresher course in common sense, plus. Plus the experience and wealth of knowledge that experts in child development can provide. Plus some step-by-step
ideas on how to put your knowledge into action. Plus some reassurance that your
kids will someday grow out of their "But she’s looking at me!" stages. Overall, Brazelton and Sparrow do a
great job of showcasing the challenges and triumphs of dealing with sibling rivalry and, most particularly, showing how valuable it is in each child’s development.