Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child-and-family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says a certain amount of bickering, rivalry and fighting is natural between brothers and sisters. So how can Mom and Dad encourage kids to stop the squabbling? Parental attention and sibling playtime make for a good start.
Have individual Mom and Dad time
According to Dr. Walfish, the next time the kids appear to be having a power struggle or arguing over a material thing, parents should remember that the real underlying objective is to gain Mom and Dad's approval and love — to be their favorite. So how can a parent make sure the kids feel loved?
"Parents should give each individual child a full tablespoon of separate Mom and Dad attention."
"Parents should give each individual child a full tablespoon of separate Mom and Dad attention," says Walfish.
She recommends that you should implement "Special Time" with each child and incorporate it into your daily routine.
"Make a big hoopla about how Mommy wants Special Time with each one. Set your other child(ren) up with a video or toys while you take each one separately into the kitchen to scoop ice cream and enjoy eating while you gaze adoringly into his eyes. This goes in like penicillin!"
She also suggests talking with your children as a group about powerful feelings, including jealousy, anger, worries and sadness.
There are games that older and younger siblings can play together to help them get along and bridge the age gap. Walfish says her favorite is a game she created called "Detective."
"Mom or Dad supervises while each child takes a turn asking the other child a 'get-to-know-you' question."
She suggests encouraging fun or personal questions like "What's your favorite color (or dessert, dinner or best friend)?" or "What scares you the most?"
"Playing 'Detective' is a fabulous way to get closer to someone and deepen the already established bond," she says.
Sometimes, getting the kids to work together on a project is all you need to end the fighting. Activities that involve constructing something, like a fort, are good for getting kids of different ages on the same page. Give the kids blankets, sheets, pillows and cushions and watch them build a secret world together. If you don't mind a mess in your living room, let the kids leave the fort up until that evening. Then pop some popcorn, put on a movie and let them watch from the comfort of their cozy lair.
Play "Kids vs. Grown-ups"
Normally, parents don't like it when their kids team up against them, but when it's a game, that's a whole different story. Head out to the backyard and play a game of kickball or baseball with the kids on one team and the grown-ups on another. While the kids are cheering each other on, they'll be working together and experiencing the feelings of being on the same side.
Implement sibling appreciation
If the bickering gets to a point where you just can't take it anymore, try a corrective of a different kind. Have each child (or the one instigating the argument) come up with a list of things he or she appreciates about his or her brother or sister. Not only will it remind the child who's making the list about all the reasons why it's not always a bad thing to have a sibling around, but it will also help the one being picked on feel valued.
Check out the book 101 Activities for Siblings Who Squabble by Linda Williams Aber (Amazon.com, $13).
More family fun