Play together nicely? My children? Is that even possible? If you are thinking this as we are heading into spring, you are not alone! As the end of the school year approaches, we gear up for fun in the sun, as well as more time spent together. This time of year often reveals the need to teach your children some skills skills to promote cooperative sibling play. Here are 5 skills we find ourselves teaching to resolve a pattern of unwanted behavior between siblings. We share them with you and encourage you to teach them to your child before unwanted behaviors develop.
This skill is for our friends who want to play but don’t know how to join! Some common behaviors I see when children need to learn to ask to join play are: property misuse/destructive play, playing loudly nearby, hovering and commenting, and whining. If your child is not talking yet, you can teach him/her to tap on a sibling’s shoulder to get the sibling’s attention. You can then teach your child to point to the toy the sibling is playing with to indicate, “I want to play with that!” If you have a child who is talking, having him/her say, “Hey (sibling’s name), can I play?” is a great way to prevent any of the previously mentioned unwanted behaviors.
Skill #2: “Can I play with that please?”
If you find that your children like to grab toys from you or from one another, this is the perfect skill replacement! Simply intercept his/her hand as s/he reaches to take or grab a toy, flip his or her hand over to face palm up to the ceiling, and then place the toy in his/her palm! If your child is old enough to use language, this gesture may still be a good first step to have him/her practice while you state, “Can I have it please?” Then you can start to have your child ask, “Can I have it, please?”, too!
Skill #3: Waiting for a turn to play
This is a prerequisite successful sharing! Children that are used to grabbing toys can struggle with waiting while a sibling plays with a toy. To teach tolerating waiting for a turn, be ready with other options for what your child can play with when it’s not his/her turn. For example, “You need to wait to race the car until your sister has a turn. Do you want to pick out the next car to race or cheer her on while she does a lap?” Be creative with the options you provide and demonstrate one of the choices if your child doesn’t readily pick one.
If it is too much for your child to wait for his/her sibling, I recommend practicing during times when you are playing alone with your child. You can pretend to be the sibling. You are more likely to set your child up for success in that you’ll honor requests quickly and start with short delays, systematically and gradually increasing how long your child waits.
Another tip is to start with activities that there is no other option but to wait your turn. Connect 4 is a great game. You maintain control of the coins, handing each child a coin each time it is his/her turn. This requires him/her to wait and sets him/her up for success.
Skill #4: “Do you want to play?”
This is a skill to keep an eye out for during sibling play. If you notice your child likes to play with siblings but never asks them to play, try teaching them to initiate it! Have your child ask, “Do you want to play (activity) with me?” You can also guide your child to offer a sibling one of the toys they are playing with to see if the sibling is interested. If it goes well, great! If the sibling isn’t interested in playing, “Pretend You Are a Light Switch!®”
Skill #5: Pretend You Are a Light Switch!®
If you notice any sibling disagreements during play or your child is resistant to practicing, Pretend You Are a Light Switch®! This means only teaching when your child’s “light switch” is on. Silently support your child to get his/her “switch” back on when it goes off. This evidence-based technique teaches your child behavior regulation. Once your child’s “light switch” is back on for a period of time, create opportunities to try again! Want to learn more about this evidence-based technique? Click here to read our blog post about it or watch our FREE video resource here!
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Anna Milligan, MS
Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA