We Are Family!

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When you work with children, you end up working with their entire family….and that’s pretty fantastic.  We all know the importance of family, especially the role a sibling plays to a child who may have delays.  I believe that a pediatric occupational therapist has a lot of very important jobs and one of them is helping parents figure out the best way to promote a healthy sibling relationship.  I have lost count of how many times parents have told me that they feel terrible about the lack of attention their non-therapy children get.

There are a lot of ways to include siblings, especially those that are close in age, in the therapeutic process. As therapists, our goal is to make sure that the kids we work with meet their goals.  However, I find it equally important that I provide parents with activities that they can do at home with all of their children.  Kids spend a lot of time at home and for some parents, figuring out what to do with them at home can be difficult.  I try and suggest games, crafts and activities that can easily be done at home, especially for those times where the weather prevents kids from getting out of their houses.

Below, you will find some of the things I have done over the years to help support sibling relationships:

*whenever possible, I have siblings join in on a session…even if only for 5 minutes.  This is far more important when a sibling is close in age or a twin to the child you are treating who is always dragged from session to session and having to spend so much of their time in a waiting room.  This practice goes a long way for all people involved!  Maybe the parents or the caregivers get 5 minutes to run to the bathroom or make a phone call or maybe they can actually observe the shared time and pick up some of the language that you use to help make play time at home more successful.

*one of the things I like to do is help kids learn how to be the “masters” of a game during our sessions.  This means that they not only know how to play the game, but are able to set it up and explain the directions to people.  Once they are masters, I have the parents buy the game for home so they can play it with their siblings.  It is such a confidence booster for the kids to be able to be in charge of something as their siblings tend to be the ones in control most of the time.  It’s important that the games are good for a variety of ages and that they aren’t too complicated, especially when it comes to explaining the rules.  Some of my favorite family games:
Yeti In My Spaghetti 
Tumbling Monkeys
-any of the matching or simple games by Eeboo
Thumbs Up
Spot It

*cooking and baking with kids can be a great way to not only address some of the occupational therapy goals at home, but can also be a fun way to help in developing a good sibling relationship.  You want to try and keep things simple and with not too many steps or ingredients so you can encourage as much independent and cooperative play as possible during these moments.  Something like making pizzas (put all the ingredients out and let the kids go to town) is a great choice and one of my favorites.  Need other ideas, check out this great website that has tons of videos with cooking activities just for kids.  Obviously, be there to supervise and do all the important parent things like turning on the oven, putting food in and out, etc. but really try and let kids work through any of the problems they may run into.

*arts and crafts can be a great way to have kids play together at home and if you choose the right thing, they may not even need that much help from grownups.  If you have an easel, set it up with an endless amount of paper for them to color, paint or draw all over.  Once they are done with their masterpiece, have them tell you what they did or maybe have them tell a story and write it on the paper and then make a big deal and hang it up somewhere for everyone to see.  If you need inspiration for craft activities, do yourself a favor and spend some time searching Pinterest.  It may be an easy way to procrastinate, but can help you come up with some great ideas. And check out this link on Parents that can send you to a bunch of kid-friendly crafting sites. Some of my other favorites craft ideas:
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics (get a set of large ones that they can work on together)
Pirasta Coloring Posters-these are a huge favorite for my daughter and my nieces.  They are large enough that at least two can get involved in the coloring fun….many more if you get the super big posters!
Play-Doh Sets

*last, but not least, blocks and other kinds of building toys make a great activity for siblings to do together.  They can work together to build something and then can add characters and spend some time doing imaginative play together.  Investing in good building toys is worth it…it might hurt the wallet at the time of the purchase, but good ones will take a good beating and still last forever.  Some of my favorites (and ones that are used in my house all the time) are:
Tegu Magnetic Blocks
Janod Building and Construction Toy Sets

As one of four girls, I realize how important a good sibling relationship is and how it is can be easy for one child to feel like they are getting short changed on attention.  As a therapist, I think it is important that we do what we can to help families understand how easy it is for them to play together, no matter what kind of difficulties one of their children may be having.  Try and encourage parents to take their kids outside and play together whenever the opportunity comes up.  Whether it be blowing and catching bubbles, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, kicking a ball back and forth to one another or one pushing the other on a swing, there are tons of ways that parents can help strengthen the relationship between their children instead of one feeling slighted.  Let’s not forget how much children learn from each other…especially what they can learn from a sibling that they adore.

I know I am not the first therapist/professional who works with children that has faced this particular problem:  advising parents what to do to foster a healthy sibling relationship and limit the amount of guilt the parents feel about providing one child with more attention than the other.  What kind of advice or activities do you suggest?  Do you have a favorite Pinterest board or websites that you rely on for helping you come up with activities to do with your children?  Not only would I love to hear some of the things you all suggest to parents, I know that my readers would love to hear as well.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

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