The end of sibling rivalry?

I think I may have found the solution to eradicate sibling rivalry and thought I’d pass it on. You can really use the same ideas to target any behaviours, but the sibling rivalry piece is forefront in my house.  I decided to implement a variation of a good behaviour game – not a new concept by any means, but effective where I need it the most. In this case, fighting the war against sibling rivalry.

I had initially started the game a year or two ago to promote joyful hikes with my girls. Hikes that were otherwise good ‘ol whine fests. I don’t want to go for a hike. My legs hurt. I’m hungry. And on and on it would go until everyone was miserable and annoyed with one another. The first time I implemented the game, our hike was amazing. And guess what – both girls had a lot of fun and enjoyed it too. By the time they made it to the top of the mountain, they had helped each other out all the way to the top, pointed out cool things they found along the path, sang songs, and even commented how much fun they were having. I have brought it out intermittently since then, usually for high-whine situations.

It came to pass that the girls’ fighting has escalated recently to the point that my husband and I were getting quite frustrated. Especially while driving in the car. The constant bickering and tattling that would happen in a quick 15 minute jaunt was unbelievable. And so, one day, I decided to bring out the game, naming it the Helping Sisters Game.  Before starting the game, we all discussed what a “helpful” sister is. The girls were great with coming up with the most important ones: keep hands to yourself, ask each other politely if we have a request (such as to stop singing), follow through with polite requests, and find another book if the other person has the book you want. These were essentially the things the girls fought about. We then identified the unhelpful behaviours, or “pricklies;” the things we want to get rid of: screaming, grabbing, whining, and tattling. Once these behaviours are established, the girls then work as a team for a defined period of time, such as while in the car until we reach our destination. Every time they display a helpful behaviour, they earn a point. Anytime a prickly comes out, the girls lose a point. That point then goes to the adults. Parents vs. kids. The team with the most points at the end of gets to choose a reward. It could be something like who gets to pick a movie for family movie night, dinner for the day, or a fun activity to do as a family. We have even started making this a little longer-term, where they earn a sticker every time they win. Once they get a certain amount of stickers, they earn the reward (they really like the idea of getting to choose things, such as dinner, a family outing, and so on). It has been golden.

If you are thinking about implementing your own game, here are a few keys to success:

  • Be sure to involve your kids in identifying the behaviours you want to see vs. those you want to reduce. Have them come up with a fun name to call the game.
  • Focus on only playing the game during certain problematic times and keep the intervals short. Examples may be when you’re driving, making dinner, or trying to get out the door in the morning. You can slowly increase the time interval once they achieve greater success. Start off small. Set them up for success to keep them motivated. Slowly increase expectations.
  • Focus on the positive first, especially when first starting out. Identify what your kids are doing right, even if it’s the effort that they’re trying to follow the rules.
  • Offer praise frequently. This is especially helpful for younger kids, who may have difficulty remembering what they need to do over the time interval. Verbal praise is helpful to keep them motivated and on track.
  • As with anything, be consistent. Especially when things are going good. Parents often let things slide once things are going good, only to be later frustrated when the old behaviours start to creep back in.
  • Provide immediate and specific feedback so the kids know exactly what they are doing right or what they should be doing instead.
  • Keep it fun and light. If they lose a point, no need to nag or berate. Keep it light – “oh, there’s a prickly, looks like mom gets the point.”
  • Be sure to reward win. Offer salient rewards, and something the kids only have access to when they win the game. Although you will likely increase expectations as to what earns a reward, be sure to continue offering rewards. Reinforcing children for things parents “expect” their children to do is often hard; however, reinforcement is a critical element for success.