When dealing with squabbling toddlers or preschoolers, “Can’t we all just get along?” is often easier said than done. And though it might seem counterintuitive, one of the most effective ways to foster sibling cooperation is by promoting the power of teamwork. Here, four ways to do it.
Set them against the timer.
“Assign them specific tasks like cleaning their room, with the goal of beating the clock rather than each other,” advises says Adele Faber, Long Island, N.Y.-based coauthor of Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too.
Let your big kid be the guide.
If there’s more of an age gap, guide older children in helping younger ones. “Even very young children can bring diapers, help feed the baby, cuddle a younger one who is upset or push the stroller,” notes Lesia Oesterreich, adjunct assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University in Ames.
Remember, chores as for sharing.
Make at least one weekly chore a team effort, too. “Setting the table, feeding the birds, emptying the dishwasher and raking leaves are good jobs for learning how to work together,” says Oesterreich. Of course, family activities—whether it’s a vacation or regular meals together—are fun-filled ways to bring kids closer while learning to appreciate each other as allies, too.
Play up the rewards.
You can also teach children to share and take turns in ways that sweeten the deal, says Laura Markham, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Brooklyn, N.Y., and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. “For instance, one child divides a treat and the other picks the first piece, or ‘We play your game first and then my game second, but for longer,’” she explains. “Or create a ‘cooperation jar’: Put a coin in it every time you observe the kids being nice to each other, including playing without fighting.” When the jar is full (or perhaps reaches a certain mark), let the children decide, together, how to spend the money.