Playing with Siblings

October 19, 2015

Getting along with a sibling is hard! Think back about how your brother and/or sister used to pull your hair or tattle tale when you were trying to keep a secret, that you didn’t eat your broccoli. Children who are diagnosed with Autism love their siblings, however it might be difficult for them to express it.

Many parents express the hope they have for their kids to play together and have fun. Keep in mind, this process will take time but you can do it! First, start by creating a fun environment between them. Try using music and/or bubbles but do not to place many demands (instructions like “say hi to your brother”, “let’s share”). Instead make sure that various materials (i.e. bubble wands, multiple balloons, balls, and etc.) are available so that the kids do not have to share the items, at first. Don’t worry we will work up to sharing.

Pairing is a term that is often used to describe the process of building a rapport with an individual. Pairing can be used to shape social skills including interactions and engagement. Pairing involves using tangible items (favorite toys or edibles) and giving an individual something that they are motivated for without having to earn it. The goal is to establish that the person who is pairing is associated with great things. Parents should use pairing while teaching their child to communicate properly with their siblings and engage in sibling peer play. Peer play may include but not limited to working together, problem solving, and sharing.

Steps for paring include:

  1. Position siblings in close proximities and engage the children in an activity that they are motivated for. (Tips to help motivate your child in an activity: be enthusiastic and energetic when engaging in selected or new activities)
  2. While you are engaging the children in the activity or toys, give them praise “You’re doing a good job pressing the buttons on the truck!” or “I love the way you are sitting with your brother/sister!” This will let your children know that they are engaging in appropriate behavior and increase the likelihood of those desired behaviors to occur again in the future.*Note: If one or both children are not engaging in appropriate behavior do not deliver any edibles or praise. See section for modeling appropriate behavior.
  3. Next, have the children switch toys or take turns depending on the activity. This exchange should last approximately 10 seconds. If the children are acting in an appropriate manner provide praise (i.e. “You guys are doing a wonderful job sharing the trains!”) and an edible (i.e. candy or chips).
  4. Have the children switch back the toys after the 10 seconds.
  5. Continue the same steps but increase the time (15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25, 30 seconds and change as appropriate behaviors occur) of exchanged toys. Again, give praise and edibles when the children are engaging in appropriate behavior.

Parents can model how to share with their children by using appropriate communication skills for the child’s age level. Parents can also model the appropriate way to engage in imaginative peer play with siblings, take turns, wait patiently and communicate with one another using nice words.

Advice for parents when modeling ‘how to interact and communicate with their siblings’ appropriately include, being mindful with tone, demeanor, and words that are used. Be sure not to tolerate negative or harmful/unsafe behaviors. Avoid showing favoritism to once child or another. Overall, make it fun! We all know that when activities are fun it doesn’t feel like work. So make the activities and engagements exciting and upbeat!

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