If you have been following my posts that describe how I frequently adapt “non-therapeutic” games and turn them into therapy games, you will know that this is something I do A LOT. I’ve explored in past posts my adapted versions of Sorry!Checkers, Connect 4,  Perfection, and many others, and now I’ve decided it’s time to add my youngest son’s very favorite game to my already expansive supply of games I have adapted for therapeutic purposes.

If you’re new to this site, let me first explain what I’m talking about when I say “non-therapeutic” games. It’s simple: the difference is nothing more than what a game’s original intent and purpose were when they were initially designed. “Non-therapeutic” games are those that you can generally find at your local department store in the game aisle, such as UNO or Monopoly. “Therapeutic” games, in the original sense, are those which you can usually only find at play therapy specialty stores, such as playtherapysupply.com, childswork.com, or childtherapytoys.com, to just name a very few. For anyone not new to this blog, you know though that I can make most ANY game therapeutic, the same as how most any game can also be made educational!

Sibling Rivalry and Jealousy

Now on to what you’re here for: a game to help your children (siblings to one another) get along. I cannot count how many child and teen clients I see that experience a distressing amount of sibling conflict at home. To an extent, sibling rivalry and jealousy – sibling conflict – is developmentally normal. In fact, I don’t personally know of any sibling pair or group that gets along 100 percent of the time. I have an amazing older brother whom I’ve always gotten along with very well, and even we had our days as children where we would argue and fight and even sometimes pull hair. It didn’t happen on a day to day (or nearly every day) basis though, and our relationship never became so distressing that it affected our individual or family functioning. We would annoy and aggravate our grandparents, who raised us, but it did not seem to cause them a significant amount of stress or strife, they would tell us later.

That said, there are sibling relationships out there that do become distressing and concerning, for both the siblings and for the family in general. When a sibling relationship is strained, the family also becomes strained.

Interpersonal Differentiation

Family Systems Theory, introduced years ago by Dr. Murray Bowen, defines the family as an emotional unit, systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system. In other words, each person in the family affects each other.

There is a good deal of research that have found evidence that people in general can have quite an influence on the psychophysiological well-beings of those around them. Emotions particularly have a “contagious” effect, with negative emotions (such as anger, upset, sadness, etc.) being more contagious than positive ones (such as happiness, joy, etc.). So it makes sense that if one person is experiencing negative emotions, it’s likely the rest of the family will start experiencing those emotions too.

It is for that reason that it is essential that children learn interpersonal differentiation. Interpersonal differentiation is when we can distinguish our experiences from the experiences of other people we are connected to. Children especially have a tendency to feel the emotions they sense that their parent is feeling. If mom is feeling stressed, for example, the child begins feeling stressed too because he feels his mom’s stress. It is this differentiation process that will help children learn to differentiate what emotions belong to them and what emotions belong to mom (or their other parent or family member).

Why do siblings get along the way they do, with some who argue and fight all the time versus others who seem close and are able to get along very well? There are many reasons why sibling relationships can become strained or conflictual, too many for me to list for the purposes of this article. Personality differences, age, gender, family size and spacing, and birth order are among the top reasons that help determine and explain why some siblings get along better than other sibling sets.

Cooperative Bonding

It is very common  for kids to feel jealous of one another and to compete for their parents’ attention. It’s common for kids to disagree and to even get in occasional arguments. But it’s important that if your children are having significant difficulty getting along and the relationship is causing them or you or other family members a great deal of distress, please try to find help to resolve it. Therapists see lots of families for this very reason, you’re not alone. There are some things you can do, however, to help at home, whether to be proactive so that therapy is not needed or to use in conjunction with therapy as well.

An antidote to sibling conflict is to help the siblings have more experiences of cooperative bonding with one another so they can begin to realize that they have their own connection, that they’re not just competitors for their parents’ attention. Homeostasis between siblings can be obtained through a combination of self-differentiation experiences and sibling bonding experiences.

Enter the therapeutic use of games like Trouble.

How to Play Trouble

Trouble is a simple game for 2-4 players and is recommended for those ages 5 and up. Trouble’s board contains a fun pop-die roller (the POP-O-MATIC). The goal of the game is to be the first player to move all four of your pegs from HOME to FINISH.

Each player chooses a color and places all four of their colored pegs in their HOME spot. The players then roll the die (which involves pressing the dome of the pop-die roller, causing the die to jump and roll) to determine which player goes first. The one with the highest roll goes first and play proceeds to the left.

Game rules state that in order to move your pieces from HOME to START, you must roll a 6. If you do not roll a 6, and no pieces are in play (meaning that all of your pieces are still on your HOME), then your turn is over, and it is the next player’s turn. Once one or more pieces has been moved from HOME to START, you move your pieces around the game board based on the number rolled on your turn. Whenever you roll a 6, you get to roll the die again for a second turn. When you roll a 6, you can opt to either move a piece from HOME to START or you can move a different piece 6 spaces around the board if you have another game piece already at play.

*NOTE: With younger players, I generally throw out the rule that a player cannot move unless he rolls a 6, though he may still take a second turn if a 6 is rolled.

Pieces move around the board clockwise (left). You must count each space you move, whether it is empty or full. If you land on a space that has another player’s piece, the other player’s piece is sent back to their HOME. You may not land on your own pieces, including to move onto START.

To win the game, you must be the first player to move all your pieces into your FINISH. You must roll an exact number to move your pieces into an empty FINISH spot. If you roll a higher number than you can move (and you have no other pieces you can move), then your turn is over and your piece does not move. Pieces do not move around the board a second time.

If 3 or 4 people are playing, game play can continue even after one person has won so as to determine 2nd and 3rd places.

How to Play Sibling Trouble

Before playing Sibling Trouble, print and cut out the following task cards. If you have access to a laminator, I recommend laminating them for durability.

Sibling Trouble Task Cards

The game of Sibling Trouble is played the same way one would play the traditional game of Trouble, except that when a player rolls a 2 or 5 on the pop-die roller, he must draw a card.

The task cards include an array of activities, ranging from self-regulation skills one can use when they are experiencing sibling conflict (or dysregulation in general), cooperative bonding activities which require the siblings to work together to complete a task or activity, and scenario cards in which the player is asked to respond how he would handle a sibling conflict situation.

I start all my games by listing my two rules of game play in therapy: We play fairly and we congratulate the winner, regardless of who wins or loses. Usually we congratulate the other with a high five, even when the losing player shows unhappiness or anger or might be tearful because he lost. I also discourage boasting when there is a win – you can be proud and excited without being mean and rubbing it in.

When I use the game as a therapist, I encourage both (or all, depending on how many siblings I’m presently working with during the session) players to participate in the activities, though if one is reluctant to do so when it is not their turn, I will then only require both/all siblings to participate during the cooperative bonding tasks (those that require teamwork in order to successfully complete the task requested).

If a parent or therapist – or an older sibling (who is not involved in the sibling conflict) – is able to facilitate the game, I suggest that this will likely produce better outcomes, except in cases where the game has already been played a couple times and you know that the siblings will play fairly and likely not need a facilitator. A parent or therapist can especially help guide the players by modeling some of the self-regulation skills and briefly explaining how the skill would be helpful in times of conflict (or dysregulation).

If the siblings playing are not able to read or are not good readers, they will require someone to help facilitate the game, as it involves reading and practicing or otherwise responding to the task cards. Besides being the reader, the facilitator also serves the purpose of ensuring that the players are playing fairly, and it also reduces the number of disagreements between (or amongst) the siblings while the game is being played.

The cooperative bonding tasks sometimes require common items or objects found in most households, such as pencil and paper or even a potato! If the task card requires something not readily available, don’t sweat it. Just have the player draw another card. I included a good amount of cards for reasons like this, as well as so the game can be played over and over and the same task cards won’t keep arising. If the siblings run out of task cards, they can shuffle the ones they’ve already used and perform the tasks again. After all, practice improves the chances that the skills will be remembered in the future when they’re needed in the midst of a conflict. And the more cooperative tasks that siblings do together, the more likely that the siblings, over time, will begin to get along better and will result in fewer sibling conflicts.

The idea is to help siblings see that they don’t have to compete with one another, that they can cooperate and will still be given positive attention while learning how to be a team. At the same time, the competitive qualities of the game Trouble also gives the siblings a dose of the natural and developmentally normal dose of competition they desire.

Parents…

Parents, you can also play a part in improving the siblings’ relationship in other ways. Try to always be fair to each child (and that doesn’t necessarily mean that every child receives the same consequence, as long as the consequences given are equal in value and relate to the misbehavior they are being consequent for). Even though each child may complain that you’re being harder on them than on their sibling, know in good faith that you are being as fair as you can.

Also try your very best to give each child a good amount of positive attention. If Johnny always sees you praising Susie for her good grades, even if Johnny isn’t as good of a student, PLEASE praise Johnny for his positive efforts too and praise him for something he does show a talent for. If you are seen (or perceived as) giving Susie a lot of positive attention and not Johnny, Johnny is more likely to seek your attention in negative ways and he will probably end up resenting Susie in the process.

And if you spend a lot of one-on-one time with Susie, please try to spend just as much one-on-one time with Johnny too. Though it can be difficult most weeks, try to spend individual time with each of your children throughout the week. Kids, whether they will admit it or not, crave your time and attention!

Good luck! I hope you find the game useful!