Last Updated December 21st, 2018

15 Cheap And Fun Family Christmas Activities

15 Cheap And Fun Family Christmas Activities

The Christmas season is a great time to take a break and do some special things with your family. When you aren’t dealing with the rush to get the Christmas decorating and shopping done, it’s time to enjoy yourself. These fun family Christmas activities don’t have to take a ton of time and they’re nicely affordable for most budgets.

This isn’t about choosing a Christmas tree and decorating it – odds are you already know that one. It’s also not about moving the Elf On The Shelf, although I have some geeky ideas for that one elsewhere. Instead, this post is about fun family Christmas activities you may not have considered. No doubt some will be traditions you already enjoy, but hopefully some will be new to you or inspire further ideas.

Go See The Christmas Lights

All the houses decorated for Christmas are one of the great parts of this time of year. You don’t have to go far to see houses lit up for Christmas in most places. You can just take a walk around the block.

If you want to see the really amazing houses, however, you may have to do a little research to figure out which areas near you have coordinated to make a neighborhood display. These neighborhoods are fun to drive through, so long as you’re careful to watch for pedestrians and for other cars stopping suddenly.

Best of all these displays are generally free. All it costs is the gas to drive there.

Build A Gingerbread House

Making a gingerbread house with the kids can be a lot of fun. You can bake the gingerbread yourself if you like, buy a kit, or cheat like I do, and use graham crackers.

Most people use royal icing to hold the house together and to decorate. Chocolate can be used as well. Get some candy to bring in some color and flavor, and everyone can have some fun.

You can build a larger gingerbread house as a family, or have everyone make their own.

Watch Christmas Movies And Shows

There are so many Christmas movies and shows on television this time of year. It’s just a matter of finding out when your favorites are on.

Make up some popcorn and other fun snacks, and it’s a cheap and easy evening as a family.

Local movie theaters may also play Christmas movies.

It may cost a little more, but you may be able to find live performances of Christmas plays in your area as well.

Make Caramel Corn

Caramel corn is surprisingly easy to make, and so much fun to eat. It sounds really messy, but the cleanup isn’t bad at all once you realize that the stuck on caramel dissolves nicely in water. And the delicious caramel corn is well worth it.

If you want something a little fancier, drizzle it with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. It’s super easy and the results are worth it.

Bake Cookies

What cookies most say “Christmas” to you and your family? It’s time to make them.

Let each person pick a favorite cookie to make if you want a large supply of them. We keep it pretty simple and make a large batch of chocolate chip cookies, which we then decorate to give them a bit more of a Christmas flair.

If you like a large range of cookies, make plans with other families for a cookie swap. This way no one has to make a bunch of different types of cookies, but you all get a variety to enjoy.

Make Peppermint Bark

I have to be honest. My kids don’t seem to like peppermint candy canes that much. Of all the candy they may get at this time of year, they’re the most likely to be sitting around until the end.

Make them into peppermint bark, however, and they’ll disappear quickly.

Peppermint bark is super easy to make. You can do it with chocolate, peppermint extract and candy canes with very little difficulty.

Make Homemade Christmas Ornaments

Homemade Christmas ornaments can be a lot of fun to make. They also help create great memories of the year you made them.

There are many lovely Christmas ornaments you can make at home. Here are a few ideas:

Check Out Local Christmas Events

Have you looked for free holiday events in your area? You may be surprised at what you can find.

The town I live has a Christmas parade and a Winter Fest with tree lighting every year. Both are a lot of fun for the family. The people in the parade often throw candy for the kids, which gets them quite excited. The other towns in the area have similar events.

You can also look for places that have free Santa photos in your area. Many malls have Santas that you have to pay for pictures to visit, but sometimes you can find them for free as well. Bass Pro is one store that lets you get free pictures with Santa.

Donate Or Volunteer

Your family may be doing pretty well right now, but what about others? Christmas is a lovely time to start volunteering, although volunteers are needed year round.

It can be challenging to find volunteer opportunities that you can do with kids, but they are out there. Use sites such as VolunteerMatch to make this easier.

Many places are looking for donations as well. Homeless shelters and food banks may need food. Animal shelters need supplies for their animals. Children’s hospitals need toys for the kids who are spending the holidays there, and of course there’s always Toys For Tots. Sometimes your children’s school may have toy drives to donate to as well.

Use this as a start, but remember that charities need volunteers and donations all year. Don’t make this a one time thing if you can do more.

Christmas Scavenger Hunt

A Christmas scavenger hunt can be a fun way to change up the opening of the Christmas gifts. Find places to hide some of the gifts and give the kids clues instead.

Alternatively, you can make up a list of things that might be spotted in outdoor Christmas decorations and see who can fill out their list first as you look at the decorated houses in your area.

Family Game Night

This is a great time of year to make a little extra time to do things as a family. Playing games is one way to do this.

If there’s a game you’ve been considering for the family, this is the excuse you need to get that game as a special treat. Playing games together is a great way to get everyone talking and just plain having fun.

Make Homemade Christmas Gifts

Making Christmas gifts at home can be a lot of fun, and it really shows a lot of thought to others.

Just consider the things you like to make. I sometimes make chocolate truffles to share with family, as well as the usual cookies. You can also make ornaments, sew things, knit, or whatever suits your style.

Read Christmas Stories

Reading together as a family is a good idea in general, but reading Christmas stories together can be even more special. Classics such as The Night Before Christmas have been enjoyed for many years, but there are lots to choose from.

If you don’t have the stories you want on hand, head out to the library to see what they have, or see what’s available in an electronic version. Most libraries now have access to electronic versions of a wide range of books. You may have a little trouble getting the story if it’s popular, as they’re limited in how many electronic versions can be checked out at a time.

Go Ice Skating

This is a great time of year to go ice skating. In addition to indoor rinks that are available year round, some cities set up seasonal rinks at this time of year.

Have A Snowball Fight

Do you have snow in your area, or at least near enough to drive to? Take the family out and have a friendly snowball fight.

But if you’re like me, and snow is nowhere to be found for hours around you, you can still have a family snowball fight. You just need to get a little creative.

We usually use cotton balls for our no snow snowball fights. They’re cheap and not terribly messy. You won’t want to use them for anything else after they’ve been thrown around, but that’s okay.

If you don’t mind a mess, you can try this snowball toss game that uses shaving cream. Yes, it’s a lot messier, but mess can be fun.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated December 14th, 2018

How To Help Your Children Understand Advertising

How To Help Your Children Understand Advertising

As grownups, we all know that what ads say isn’t always the precise truth. They always put the products in the best possible light. We understand what advertising is.

Little kids don’t think that way, of course. Many struggle with the idea that cartoons aren’t real. Do you think there’s any chance that they understand yet that commercials aren’t 100% true?

It’s a great idea to help your children understand advertising.

You can do this starting at an early age, and it’s a lot of fun once you start seeing results. There’s nothing like having a preschooler point out inaccuracies in advertising, especially when an ad is wildly unrealistic.

Why Do Companies Market To Kids?

Common Sense Media says that companies market to kids to build brand loyalty as early as possible. Also, the more platforms they can market on, the more chances they have that kids will see their products.

Children are more easily influenced than adults. If you spend much time with children, you know how true this is. That toy they never saw before the commercial aired is suddenly the thing they need most in the world.

Sometimes kids will express a strong opinion, but it won’t take much at all to make them change it. A toy they thought looked boring at the store becomes fascinating after they watch a YouTube video featuring it.

Now if it’s a meal you cooked that they just don’t want to eat, that’s another story. Kids can be stubborn about that stuff and it doesn’t matter that they liked the same food yesterday. That was then and this is now.

But convince a child that everyone wants a particular toy and they’ll want it too.

Common Sense Media also notes the problem with advertising to kids – it often makes them feel as though their self-worth depends on getting these things they’ve seen advertised.

child ads tablet

Why Should Children Understand Advertising?

It’s important that for children to understand advertising because they see so much of it. Worse, many ads give kids unrealistic expectations for toys and other products that they suddenly need above all else.

Advertising is everywhere. It’s on TV, the internet, apps, and just about everywhere kids go. Ads may be in the games they play. Shows they love may have products carefully placed to get attention.

Helping your children understand advertising makes your life easier too. When kids understand what ads are doing to them, the ads don’t work as well on them. With any luck at all, your kids won’t beg for as much stuff because they won’t feel the need for all the things they see in ads.

Understanding ads is also important for online safety. Clicking on an ad online can take your children to site you don’t want them on.

Explain Advertising to Them

Start out by explaining what ads are to them, and why companies advertise. It really helps if they understand why they’re seeing ads.

Use individual ads as examples. When the kids are really enthusiastic about a product ad they’ve just seen, ask them why. See if they understand how the ad gained their interest.

Talk about how the ads are making them feel and whether the actual item will make them feel that way. Ask if they really think the product will do exactly as claimed. Ask if similar products can probably do the exact same thing.

This is easiest with toys and can be very effective if they happen to have a few toys that they had seen advertised and were then disappointed in, or if the toy quickly lost their interest. Go over how the toy was advertised, and compare it to the real thing. You can also compare it to toys your kids already own.

child ads tablet

Help Them Understand How Language Is Used In Advertising

You know how devious promotional language can be. It’s usually true, but a truth stretched as far as the advertisers dared, and then exaggerated. Helping your kids to spot how this is done is not only good for their ability to understand advertising, it’s great for their vocabulary.

Talk to your kids about how individual ads make them feel about the product. This helps your children see the kind of power words can have, which may also help when discussing why some words are hurtful.

Don’t be surprised if the kids start to treat advertising as lying. It’s a pretty natural step. You can decide how to explain the difference between lying and what most ads do.

Be Aware of Product Placements

It’s not just ads during the commercial breaks you need to discuss. It’s the placement of products within the shows themselves.

This isn’t much of a problem during most cartoons, except in the sense that an awful lot of cartoons are all about selling the toys. Just look at the huge selection of toys available for some children’s shows.

But in other kinds of shows, you’ll see strategically placed and used products throughout the show.

Think about why their favorite characters are drinking a particular soda. Talk about the other brands that are clearly shown on camera. Explain that this is also a form of advertising, and the preferences shown on television have little to nothing to do with real life.

With the popularity of unboxing videos and such on YouTube, it’s even more important that children understand advertising. These videos are great at making children want things they didn’t know about before.

Ads and product placements may happen in the games your kids play too. Keep an eye out for these and talk about why the ads are placed there.

child ads phone

Discuss Alternatives

It’s helpful to remind kids that they don’t need everything they see advertised on television or online. Often enough, the reasons why are pretty simple.

Sometimes you already own the item advertised, or something similar to it. In this case, it’s easy to talk to your kids about why you don’t need more of that thing.

Other times, you can explain why it’s not worth it to spend money on the thing your kids saw advertised. If a fast food commercial makes your kids want to go out to lunch, you can talk about why it’s better to eat most meals at home, for example.

It can also come down to money. It’s okay to tell your kids that you know they want the thing, but you aren’t going to buy the thing. Children don’t need as many things as they ask for, no matter how much they disagree some days.

Ads try to make it seem so much like everything is needed, so teaching your kids that they don’t need it all is important. Help them learn that wanting and needing are two very different things.

child ads computer

It’s Not Just The Little Kids Who Need To Know

You may have covered this subject pretty well when your kids were little. But when was the last time you talked to them about ads as they’ve gotten older?

There are so many more places for kids to deal with advertising now than when my kids were little. Just think about it. Smartphones and tablets haven’t been a thing for that many years. Advertising has grown with these.

As kids get older, they may be influenced by what they think a favorite celebrity likes or by ads they see on social media. They see ads in the apps they use. Older kids are even tempted by contests to give away their email address for a slim chance at a prize.

Help your children continue to understand how these things are affecting them. If your child becomes interested in a particular brand, discuss why. Advertising may have something to do with it.

Teach your kids to think about the information advertisers are getting from them. If your kids do much online, it may be quite a bit, and that’s good for them to know.

It’s not just from filling out contest forms online. That’s a direct way for advertisers to get information, but not the only way.

It’s the sites your kid go to. The games that they play. The things they share on social media as well as the accounts they follow and the posts they like. Matter of fact, it’s pretty hard to keep from sharing information with advertisers, and that’s something kids should know.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated October 5th, 2018

8 Ways To Brighten Your Child’s School Day

8 Ways To Brighten Your Child's School Day

Going to school can be stressful for kids. They had fun all summer, but now they have to focus on learning. It’s quite a change to make, especially when the kids are little. Fortunately, there are many ways you can brighten your child’s school day that won’t take a lot of time.

A little pick me up can do wonders for a child’s attitude toward school. It’s hard to have a good day at school when you’re hungry or under too much stress, for example. Doing what you can to help with these problems may help your child enjoy school far more.

1. Start with a good breakfast.

There’s a reason why “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is such a cliche. It’s true. If your family consistently has trouble making time for breakfast in the morning, try getting up a bit earlier. It may be hard for both you and the kids to get used to, but it means you can get a decent breakfast into them. And maybe even feed yourself.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to make a meal that looks like a TV commercial. In fact, you may want to take some shortcuts. Here are some things you can buy or prepare in advance to make mornings easier:

  • hard boiled eggs
  • overnight oats
  • yogurt
  • smoothie popsicles
  • muffins
  • and many other make-ahead breakfasts.

The smoothie popsicles are super popular with my kids. They love to brag to their friends that they had a popsicle for breakfast, but it’s really the exact same fruit and vegetable smoothie made the day before as a healthy drink. Use as many vegetables as possible to keep the sugar level down, and find a good source of protein to keep the whole thing healthy.

And yes, lots of mornings the kids just grab the cereal. Breakfast doesn’t have to be fancy when you don’t have the time or supplies.

If money is an issue, as it is for some families, look into what meal options the school offers. They may offer breakfast as well as lunch.

2. Pack a note to be read at school.

Another classic, but very worthwhile. My oldest daughter’s first grade class actually had this somewhat formalized, with a “Write-to-Me Journal”. She wrote to us each Friday, and we wrote back to her over the weekend, to be read at school. But of course, notes at other times are also a good idea, such as the classic note in the lunch box.

If you have no idea what to say in a lunch note, there are lots of ideas out there. There are even printable lunch notes that make it super easy. But notes don’t have to be fancy or long. They only have to make your child feel happy.

If your child says they’re embarrassed by the notes or getting teased by friends about the notes, talk about alternatives. Teasing from friends can take away the good feelings the note brings. Together, you can find a compromise that works for both of you.

headed to school

3. Say “I love you” as they leave for school.

Younger kids love to hear this, of course. Older ones may play embarrassed or annoyed, but they need to hear it too. Say it, and don’t worry too much about their reaction. Kids may act embarrassed but it’s also reassuring, so long as you don’t do things in ways that are too embarrassing for them.

Of course, you can be a little playful as the kids head out too. A part of my dropoff routine with my kids is to growl “get out!” when it’s time for them to get out of the van at school. They know it’s a joke.

We combine affection with friendly teasing a lot in our family. It’s what works for us and keeps life a little more fun. Little family in jokes are a way to show affection when there isn’t time for more.

4. Tell them you’re proud of them.

Another thing kids need to hear. I’ve read that it’s better to praise effort rather than to say things such as “You’re so smart.” You want to be sure that your praise is about something your child is doing well.

Also be sure to let them hear you praise them to others. It’s a little extra step that has a lot of meaning when done right. Once again, you don’t want to praise just anything, but when an action is worth mentioning to others, do so and sometimes let the kids overhear.

After school activities can help with this. It gives kids something extra to look forward to during the school day and another way to accomplish something they’ll be proud of.

If you want your kids to do an activity that really encourages effort, take a good look at Destination Imagination (DI). My youngest is on a team right now, and I’ve appraised challenges for it in the past. It really encourages kids to be more creative and to be proud of the work they’ve put into their projects.

One thing appraisers for DI learn is to look at the process the kids use to complete their challenges, not only the results. Results matter, of course, but so do teamwork and creative thinking. We’re taught not to praise results, but to say things such as “I like the way you…” and to mention specific things each child has done in the challenge.

When you see what your kids can accomplish in activities like this, you’ll have a lot of things to praise them for beyond whatever they accomplish in school. Being a good student is great, but kids will be extra happy about the accomplishments they chose on their own.


5. Take the time for family fun outside of school.

The school year is a busy time, but don’t let it get in the way of all the fun you can have as a family. Get out and enjoy yourselves. Play games. Relax. Do something to relieve the stresses of school and homework. It’s good for you too.

Family fun doesn’t have to cost a lot or anything at all. There are lots of free and cheap ways to play with your kids. Family fun is a great way to bond and to get kids talking about any problems they have. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere.

You probably can’t take time out for family fun every day. No one expects you to. There’s too much to get done for most families between work, homework, extracurricular activities and just basic living. Just remember that even doing little things can help.

6. Give the kids time to be kids.

There’s a lot of pressure to put children into a bunch of activities these days. While these can provide some benefits, too many simply lead to stressed out kids. Give them time to play on their own, no instructions from adults. Other than “No TV, no computer, no video games” perhaps. Get them outside.

Outdoor play has been shown to help with the symptoms of ADHD, and the exercise is generally healthy anyhow. It doesn’t matter your age, you should all get outside to have fun daily anyhow. Playing outside helps kids to focus mentally.

Time with friends can be a big help. Just think about how many great childhood memories you have of time spent with your friends and no adults. Your kids should have the opportunity to enjoy that as well.

This can be difficult if your kids and their friends have a lot of extracurricular activities, but do the best you can. This social time can be great for your kids. They don’t need you hovering over them when they’re playing with friends.

child at school

7. Talk about what’s happening at school.

Go beyond “So how was your day?” and similar questions. Open ended questions work better.

Younger kids can be asked about what they enjoyed most about their day. Older kids may be more willing to talk about projects they’re working on. Figure out what topics will get your child talking to you about what’s happening in school. Keep this as a habit and be positive about things so they’re used to discussing things with you, even when there’s a problem.

Kids won’t always want to talk about their school day. That’s okay, so long as they talk to you some of the time and are generally doing well. Accept the times the kids are willing to talk so they don’t feel pressured. The more relaxed your kids feel about talking to you, the better it will generally go.

8. Be supportive when they’re having problems at school.

Going to school has its hazards. Sometimes it will be problems with a classmate, other times it may be a topic that just isn’t sinking in very well. No matter what the problem is, be ready to help your child solve it.

Try not to solve too many problems for your kids, however. In many cases, you’ll do better to discuss possible solutions your child can do on his or her own. It’s good for kids to learn to talk to their teachers when they don’t understand an assignment. Someday they’ll need to talk to a boss or a coworker about a problem, and this way it can become a habit while they’re young.

On the other hand, some problems do require a parent’s touch, a meeting with the teacher or even the school principal. Be ready and willing to help.

Bullying problems, for example, rarely go away all that easily. Not all schools handle bullying issues well, no matter what the rules say. You may need to loudly advocate for your child to get a situation handled at all.

A problem with the teacher may also require a parent to step in. Talking to an authority figure about a problem doesn’t come naturally to every child, nor is it appropriate in every situation for the child to handle the problem. Be there when your child needs your support so they can learn how to handle these situations by watching you.

Having trouble in school can leave your child feeling stressed and frustrated. The better you help them handle it, the better their school days can go.

Remember That Your Child’s School Day Won’t Always Be Great

No matter what you do to brighten your child’s school day, it won’t always be enough. Stuff happens.

The important thing as a parent is to help your child learn to deal with these problems and keep them from becoming overwhelming. Being a kid is tough. If you can help your kids deal with their problems without solving every problem for them, they’ll learn a lot from you.

But also show them that it’s okay to have a bad day. We all do. How we handle those days is what makes the difference in the long run.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated September 13th, 2018

How Much Independence Do You Give Your Kids During The School Year?

How Much Independence Do You Give Your Kids During The School Year?

Now that school’s in session, I get a little more time to work at home without kids underfoot. My kids are now at ages where I don’t have to supervise them all of the time. They’re better off doing a lot of things independently after school. The challenge, at times, can be deciding how much independence to give the kids during the school year.

Kids need to learn to do things independently of their parents. It’s hard to let go sometimes, but so necessary for your child’s development. When, how, all that depends on your child and your family’s situation – I’m not going to tell you when your kids are old enough to walk home from school or whatever else. You know your kids and your situation, so you get to decide. But there are plenty of other places to encourage your child to be more independent, even when you’re home.

Finding time for your kids to be more independent during the school year can be difficult. There are so many things that must get done. You may feel as though there isn’t enough time in the day. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do.

Walking To School

As soon as it’s appropriate, I recommend having your kids walk to and from school on their own. When this is appropriate depends on a lot of factors, but it’s great for kids to walk to and from school on their own. Consider these issues when deciding whether to allow your kids to walk or ride bikes to school.

  • child’s age
  • distance
  • traffic
  • other kids walking to school in the area
  • neighborhood safety

It’s not always easy to decide when to let your children walk to school, but it’s a great milestone for them. You can walk them to school for a time while getting them used to the route, but once you think they’re ready, let them walk on their own. Consider participating in Walk To School Day at the very least.

walk to school

You may find that you disagree with other parents on when this is safe. I had a neighbor who couldn’t bear the thought of letting her daughter walk to school on her own, or even with my kids. The daughter was of an age that I thought was easily appropriate, especially with friends, but her mother wasn’t ready.

These things happen when you’re trying to let your kids be more independent. Other parents will disagree with you at times.

Don’t let that stop you.  Children do better when they can express their independence, and sometimes it’s hard to give independence to your kids during the school year. This is one of the best ways once it fits the situation you live in.


I encourage independence in homework. My kids get a short break after school, but they’re expected to start their homework after that without being reminded and with minimal assistance. They can ask questions, but overall it’s their responsibility.

I often check math, for example, but I do my best to help my kids find the answer themselves. They’ll learn more if they solve the problems themselves, after all. Most times the kids understand the mistake as soon as it is pointed out. As they get older, I check less and less, although I’m always available for questions.

Those big assignments that some parents get a little overenthusiastic about – you can tell my kids handle those with only advice from me, not the actual work. My youngest had to do a family tree already this school year, which was intended as something to be talked about as a family, but the family tree she made for her presentation was all her work with only some advice on layout.

Sometimes kids will be disappointed when they see the grand projects others turn in. You can usually tell when a parent did more work than the kids. I always make sure my kids understand that they can be proud of what they managed on their own. Handling these projects independently will benefit your kids far more than having you do most of the work.

Working from home may in part be about being there for your kids,  but it shouldn’t be about doing everything for your kids. Allowing them to take as much of the lesson from homework as possible is a big help. Don’t be afraid to help when it’s really needed, but also don’t get dragged into doing the assignment for them.

The ability to do their homework independently will be a huge help as they get older. You don’t want your kids expecting you to do too much of their homework as they go through high school or college. The sooner they’re comfortable handling their homework on their own, the more confident they will be about it. Just make sure they know you’re there when they really need help.

Do Kids Really Need To Do Their Homework?

The need for homework at all can be something of a controversy. While many parents demand homework for their children if teachers don’t already assign it, research shows that it may not be beneficial for early elementary students.

Worse, it might even be detrimental.

Consider the research and your individual child’s needs, and talk to their teacher if you disagree with their homework policy. You might change their minds or at least come up with a deal for your child.


Teaching kids to do chores well is a real pain. My kids can clean the kitchen fairly well and it is such a relief to be able to tell them that it’s time to clean up in there rather than always doing it myself.washing dishes

Teaching them to do it, as I said, wasn’t fun. Much harder than doing it myself. Many times I’d have to do the job over later. But if they don’t try, they don’t learn.


But now that they do that and other cleaning without direct supervision on my part, life is so much easier. They don’t like doing chores, but they know it’s a skill they need, so there is a certain degree of pride in their own abilities there too.

My kids first experienced cleaning the floor, for example, with an electric carpet sweeper. It worked great on hard floors too. Carpet sweepers are much easier than vacuums for small children, but they allow kids to quickly clean up those inevitable spills they make all by themselves. This gives them a touch of responsibility plus the pride of doing it themselves.


Playtime should be one of the great times for you to give your kids independence during the school year. Children need play. It’s good for them. When they’re younger, it’s better for them than homework.

Kids love it when you play with them. They need the attention. But you should also encourage them to play on their own or with friends. They don’t need your help to have fun every minute.

Independent play at any age encourages your kids’ creativity. They can come up with ideas for things to do on their own.


Make sure they have lots of supplies for fun projects. I don’t mean just toys. Encourage them to make things as well. Here are some of the things I keep on hand for my kids:

Get better quality and more challenging items as the kids get older. I even have a soldering kit for my older kids.

As your kids get older, you can encourage independence by having them arrange their own time to play with friends. You don’t have to arrange play dates all the time with the parents – encourage the kids to come up with their own plans and then confirm that it’s okay. You probably made plans with your friends when you were a kid – let your children do likewise.

Alone Time

My oldest is getting into time for herself in a big way lately, which is driving my youngest a bit up the wall, as she’d rather be with her big sister. While it’s something of an annoyance for her siblings, it’s very healthy for my oldest. She’s doing things on her own, in her own way, whether she decides to close herself up in her room or go up a tree outside. Who doesn’t sometimes need time to be alone with their thoughts?

This kind of independence can take some rules. It’s not a great idea to allow computers or other devices that can access the internet into the kids’ bedrooms, for example. You can figure out rules for your family while considering both online safety and giving your kids some independence.

The Benefit to Parents

Parents benefit tremendously from having children who are capable of doing many things independently. It means you don’t have to be the entertainment or the boss all of the time. For me and my family, that makes the times we choose to do things together all the more fun. We aren’t usually being pushed to do things together, as that’s not the only way we function.

It’s much easier for me to work at home this way. I can work while the kids play, do homework, chores or watch television. I’m usually around them still so that questions can be answered, but if they don’t need help and are generally behaving, they don’t want my interference, as a general rule.

Letting go is hard, I’ll grant that. It was hard when my oldest started to wander a larger range outside. Letting them go to where I couldn’t just yell for them and expect an answer wasn’t easy. Cell phones as the kids got older helped, as I can send a text when I need them home, but some of the places they like to play don’t have much reception, so it doesn’t always help.

You also need to consider how much your children will need to be independent later in life. The sooner you encourage them to be independent, the better they’ll be at it. They probably aren’t going to live with you forever, and you need to know that they can handle things without you. Helping them build up good habits now will benefit them later. Don’t let school get in the way more than necessary.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated September 7th, 2018

Sibling Rivalry: How To Help Siblings Get Along

Sibling Rivalry: How To Help Siblings Get Along

How much do you dread sibling rivalry between your kids? It can be a real headache for parents when siblings see each other as rivals rather than as friends. Parents can make this worse if they don’t pay attention to each child’s needs. But there are also things you can do to reduce sibling rivalry and help them get along.

Now, all of this is just my own opinion. I’m not a doctor or anything like that. But these ideas work for us, and I hope they work for others.

Some sibling rivalry is natural. It’s pretty much a law of parenting. Kids can be greedy jerks, especially to their brothers and sisters. They’re much more aware of their own needs than the needs of others, especially when they’re young.

But sibling rivalry gets worse when kids feel that they’re being treated unfairly. When one child gets more attention, the other kids notice. Even if there’s a good reason to give one child more attention, the differences can create sibling rivalry.

I’m lucky. My kids have a nice, low level of sibling rivalry. Sure, they call each other names, but it’s mostly friendly. There’s a bit of “to drive each other up the wall” in there too, but it’s not at an unhealthy level.

Ok, maybe it isn’t all luck. As with many parts of raising a family, it’s a combination of parenting and the personalities my kids are born with. I firmly believe these things are a combination of nature and nurture, not one or the other.

Still, there are some things you can do to minimize sibling rivalry with your kids. Much of it comes down to knowing how to treat your kids fairly but differently.

Treat Them As Individuals

I’m sure you’ve noticed how different each of your kids are. I know my kids are similar in some ways but very different in others. Some differences are due to age differences but others are pure personality.

My son is the organized one, my youngest daughter the least organized, even with age taken into consideration. It has been challenging at times to deal with the differences

Let each child know you see them as an individual. Their learning styles and needs can be very different. Pay attention to those differences.

This won’t always be easy. In fact, it can be downright frustrating.

Let’s say your first kid is one of those kids who eats everything. Not a picky eater at all. You feel like a great parent. They even eat their vegetables and ask for more.

The next kid is a picky eater, and I mean picky! Ketchup is too spicy. If it’s not chicken, it’s not edible. And don’t even think about vegetables.

Times like this are when you find out that some things are out of your control as a parent. You can work with the picky eater, but if you’re always comparing them to the older sibling, they’re going to resent it.

You’re far better off figuring out what it will take to help your picky eater learn to eat a wider range of foods. This takes time and a lot of patience.


Treating your kids as individuals doesn’t mean you have to make separate meals to cope with different tastes, of course. It can mean finding a balance that works for both or coming up with rules that help both kids do well at mealtimes.

This happens with more than just food, of course. How well a kid gets up in the morning, how they do in school, and their attitudes, in general, all depend on the child as an individual. You’ll find that you can expect different things with each child. Treat them that way.

Equal Treatment Isn’t Always Fair

Do not treat your kids equally just because you think you have to. Help them see why things aren’t equal. Talk it out.

For example, older kids get a later bedtime because they don’t need as much sleep. Younger kids may envy the later bedtime but will be too tired if they don’t get their sleep. When younger kids get jealous of a difference in bedtimes, explain why they can’t stay up so late.

Explaining that many differences in treatment will disappear as kids get older can help. Younger siblings can be jealous of all the things older siblings can do, while older siblings can envy the few responsibilities of the younger.

When differences are age related, you can explain how these things relate to age. A younger child is not capable of many things the older does with ease. Treating them exactly the same all of the time wouldn’t be fair.

Respect Your Kids’ Feelings

Kids are just like adults. They get angry more easily when they’re tired. They get frustrated when things don’t go right. And they hate it when people don’t respect their feelings.

It happens a lot.

Think about it. Have you ever scolded your kids for expressing their feelings? Most parents have.

A part of that is teaching kids to control their feelings better. If we all expressed ourselves as loudly as toddlers, the world would be a much noisier place.

But you can teach your kids to control their feelings while still respecting those feelings. Don’t dismiss their feelings out of hand – they are real.

There will be times that it’s hard to control your own feelings when your kids are loudly expressing theirs. Parenthood is exhausting, especially if you’re running low on sleep. There will be times when you yell because you’re tired. Do your best to set the example, and admit your mistakes when they happen.


Be Consistent

Consistency is a big part of making your kids feel that they are being fairly treated. They like to know that the rules are the same for everyone, as well as why there are exceptions.

No parent can be 100% consistent – situations will make you change the rules sometimes. Sometimes this is due to the personalities of your kids – one may be more responsible and therefore get privileges the less responsible one can’t have yet.

But even these differences you can use to your advantage as a parent. When you can’t be consistent, explain why.

Give Individual Attention

Find time to do things individually with each child. This does not have to cost money. A trip to the playground is often enough when the kids are little. A hike or even a walk around the block can work well with older kids.

Giving each of your kids individual attention gives them a chance to talk to you about the things that are important to them. Sometimes it will be things their siblings know already; other times they only want to talk to you about it.

If you realize a big conversation is starting, just go with it if at all possible. My oldest and I almost spent the night chatting in the garage one evening because we just got talking. Our garage is a comfortable place, set up as the kids’ zone with a hammock, huge beanbag chair, video games and more. Chatting the entire evening into the night wasn’t what I had planned, but it sure worked out.

A ride in the car also works. Take just one kid along when you run errands if you can. They might just be up for a nice talk while you get things done. A treat along the way helps if it fits into the budget.

Encourage Your Kids To Have Fun Together

Find ways for your kids to spend fun time together. This is challenging when their interests are different, especially when it’s due to an age difference. My teen rarely likes having to do the same thing as my elementary school age daughter, but we make sure to find some things they can do together and have fun.

The right board game or card game can be a great choice. My kids love to play Exploding Kittens, for example. They’ll also play The Game Of Life together. Anything that isn’t so simple as to be boring for the older kids is a good plan.

Family hikes are another good option. Older kids may grumble when the younger move at a slower pace, but they also get the opportunity to be the teacher and leader, which most enjoy for reasonable periods. My older kids have had a lot of fun helping the youngest get more confident climbing rocks in Joshua Tree. Nothing terribly high or challenging for any of them, as they don’t have equipment, but there’s a lot you can do there with hands, feet, and a little encouragement.

On the other side of things, make sure you respect your children’s space. Sometimes kids need to be left to do their own thing. This is especially true as they get older. My teen likes to spend a lot of time on her own in her room. I did the same when I was a teen. If you force too much togetherness, the kids will have more difficulty having fun together at other times.

Listen To Your Kids

Listen to your kids, even when you think you know the whole story already. You might be wrong. Even if you aren’t, they need to know that you hear them.

If you have a child who often complains that things are not fair, find out why.

The movie Labyrinth can help you talk about fairness with your kids. Think about when Sarah realized that “it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.” Sometimes that’s really the way it is. Spirited Away is another good one.

Sometimes you will have to insist your kids talk one at a time. You know how it gets when they want you to settle an argument. They each need to get their story out as fast as possible. You may have to tell one or another to wait their turn.

Even when it’s difficult, make your kids feel that you’re listening to each of them. Everyone needs to feel that way.


Encourage Your Kids To Explore Their Own Interests

Allow your kids to explore their own interests. They don’t all have to sign up for the same activities, even though that is probably easier on you as a parent. Doing this can also encourage your kids to be more independent.

Don’t assume boys will love one activity and girls another. They might surprise you.

If you’re lucky, their schools will have a lot of options as they reach that age. My kids’ schools have a lot of clubs, which makes it much easier for my kids to explore their own interests. What I need to know is the cost, if any, and what time to pick them up after. That and any competitions I have to attend, and if parent volunteers are required.

One activity I highly recommend is Destination Imagination. The great part is that it appeals to a wide range of interests, as you can choose from a variety of challenges, all of which encourage creativity. Two of my kids have chosen to join Destination Imagination various years, and both have loved it. The third has no interest in performing, and all of the challenges have some aspect of that.

If your kids’ school doesn’t do Destination Imagination or you homeschool, don’t worry. Your kids can form their own team together or with friends.

It can be more challenging when the kids are little or if there’s nothing that interests them in the extracurricular activities the school offers. Check with local community centers and children’s sports leagues to see what’s available.

One rule I recommend for children’s activities is that once you’ve paid for it or they’ve joined a team, they’re committed. I very rarely make an exception for that. This teaches kids to keep working on things even as they get difficult or weren’t as much fun as they thought. A lot of life is like that, so it’s a good lesson to pick up early.

My oldest daughter learned that lesson when she had me sign her up for soccer. She soon found out that it wasn’t as simple as kicking the ball around. But I made her stick with the team for the rest of the season. A few years later, she agreed the lesson had been good. It wasn’t that much of a hardship on her, and she learned that you don’t quit just because something is harder than you thought it would be.

Don’t Expect To Avoid All Sibling Rivalry

Even if you’re a great parent and treat your kids fairly while respecting them as individuals, you may have some sibling rivalry. This is normal, and you don’t always have to get into the middle of it. Sometimes they’re just having fun messing with each other.

My kids, for example, will sometimes call each other names. They get really annoyed if we stop them, as this is something they’ve established as a part of their relationship. What sibling rivalry they have is on a fairly friendly level most days.

That’s the kind of thing you want as a parent. Being siblings doesn’t have to mean they’re best friends. It should mean they like each other fairly well and can have fun together. Some of the arguing can just mean that they trust each other enough to do that.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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