Sibling Warfare? Stay Neutral

Your Family Today: Parenting

By Lisa Lombardi for Your Family Today

When your kids practically come to blows over which one got more cream cheese on their bagel, you know you’ve got a serious case of sibling rivalry. It’s likely you also know that there’s no avoiding it. “The only way to prevent sibling rivalry is to only have one child or to space kids 18 years apart,” says John Rosemond, author of The New! Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children (Andrews McMeel Publishing). But while you may not be able to keep the peace between your kids, there are things you can do to squash the squabbling.

Be Switzerland Resist the urge to rush in, because “when you intervene, you’re likely to identify one child as the villain and one as the victim,” says Rosemond. The obvious problem: It takes two to squabble, and you may be unfairly maligning one kid. The not-so-obvious problem: You’re creating a dynamic that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If that victim gets attention for being a victim, he’s going to continue to elicit that villain behavior from his brother or sister,” Rosemond says. Instead, let them work out squabbles themselves. (Note: If your younger child is 3-years-old or under or you sense either child is in physical danger, by all means play ref.)

Don’t compare siblings to each another You probably know not to say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” But it’s a common mistake to compare kids in even more subtle ways: “Julie, look at how nicely your brother is playing with those puzzles.” It’s fine to praise one child’s unique skills; just make sure you don’t have a hidden agenda — like getting Julie to stop hurling puzzle pieces across the room.

Be a supermodel You and your spouse provide a powerful example of how two family members should speak to each other. “If the kids see you arguing and calling each other names, it’s hard to get across the message ‘We don’t do that in this family,’”says Rosemond. So play nice with your spouse, and who knows? You just might hear less bickering from the playroom.

Give each kid space You know the famous line by Robert Frost about how fences make good neighbors? Well, imaginary lines (in the car, in a shared bedroom and so on) make good siblings. To avoid turf wars, “the ideal situation is for each child to have his own clearly defined space,” says Rosemond. If you can’t spare a bedroom, give each child his own desk or toy chest in the communal space.

Don’t insist on shared playdates Sure, it would be easy if your 7-year-old could take your 4-year-old under her wing whenever she has a pal over. But asking older kids to always include younger ones on playdates and fun outings can create serious resentment. Giving older kids private time with their friends will make them more likely to play nicely with their siblings when nobody else is around.

Battling Over Bedtimes? Not Anymore

Your Family Today: Parenting

By Elizabeth Hurchalla for Your Family Today

When it’s time to brush their teeth and go to bed, many kids go into meltdown mode. They refuse to put on pajamas, plead for “just one more story” and get up at least 10 times after they’re put to bed. Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of American children experience frequent sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, stalling for later bedtimes and resisting going to bed. But just because this is a common problem doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Follow these steps for combating bedtime bummers and put more ease into your z’s.

Commit to a bedtime ritual “Kids thrive on routine,” says Patrick Friman, Ph.D., author of Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You: Now Get Into Bed and Go to Sleep! (Boys Town Press). “If they know that every night they will be brushing their teeth, putting on pajamas and going to sleep at a certain time, they will grow to expect that and will be more willing to go along with the program.”

Offer choices “When I let my 3-year-old pick out his own pajamas or decide what book we’ll read before bed, he is much less resistant to turning in for the night,” says Jamie Maxwell of St. Louis. Making decisions empowers kids and makes them feel like they have a say in what’s happening to them.

Give a warm bath “A quiet, relaxing bath will help make kids sleepy — especially when you use lavender aromatherapy soap, known for its relaxation benefits,” says Rachel Franklin, M.D., a family practitioner in Oklahoma City and author of Expecting Twins, Triplets and More: a Doctor’s Guide to a Healthy and Happy Multiple Pregnancy (St. Martin’s Griffin). Science backs her up: When we fall asleep, our body temperature naturally falls. The same thing happens after you get out of a hot bath. When your temperature drops back down, it makes your body think it’s time for sleep.

Note: The relaxing effects of putting kids in a warm bath before bed go flying right out the window if you fill up the tub with toys. So try your best to keep it low-key.

Play soothing music “Every night, I play my 5-year-old daughter classical music while I rub her back,” says Traci Coleman of Oklahoma City. “It is very relaxing, and never fails to put her to sleep within 10 minutes.” Other soothing CDs feature the sounds of ocean waves, raindrops or birdsongs.

Serve warm milk Milk relaxes children because it includes tryptophan, which induces drowsiness. For best results, give your kids milk one hour before bed. (Just make sure they use the toilet one last time!)

Back up bedtime “If you put children to bed 30 minutes earlier, many kids will actually sleep later in the morning,” says Dr. Friman. “That’s because they’ll go into a deeper sleep and sleep more soundly. For kids, early to bed does not mean early to rise!”

Lunch Box Do’s and Don’ts

Your Family Today: Health

By Nancy Kalish for Your Family Today

A lunch box filled with fun, healthy food not only makes kids happy: It also helps them perform better academically. But if you’re not careful, you could be packing food poisoning along with that tuna sandwich, says Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and mother of two. Follow these simple rules to make sure your child’s lunch box makes the grade:

Don’t start with a dirty lunch box “Even a small food spill can be a bacteria magnet,” says Thayer. So give the lunch box a good scrub with hot, soapy water and dry it thoroughly. A little baking soda can get rid of any lingering food odors in lunch boxes or insulated bottles. In addition, stash a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the lunch box so kids can clean their hands before eating.

Do think before you pack Whenever possible, pick foods that have little chance of spoiling. Good choices include crackers; uncut fresh, dried or canned fruit in juice; whole veggies; hard cheeses; canned meat and fish; and individual puddings with pop-top lids. Many kids crave prepackaged lunches with individual compartments, but Thayer says these meal choices tend to be high in salt and fat. Instead, she suggests making your own healthier version. “In a reusable container with separate compartments, pack whole-grain crackers, squares of cheese and/or turkey, and a little treat.” Hard-boiled eggs, tuna salad or yogurt are also healthy options, says Thayer — but only if they can be kept cold in the fridge or with an ice pack (see below) until eaten. The best choice of all: PB&J — it’s nonperishable, nutritious and a perennial kid fave.

Don’t forget to chill Place all lunch ingredients and the lunch box itself — a soft-sided, insulated one is best — in the fridge the night before. “The cooler the food starts out, the cooler it will stay,” says Thayer. Pre-chill an insulated bottle with ice water before filling with juice or another beverage. Believe it or not, you can also freeze a sandwich made from peanut butter, cheese or meat the night before. (Don’t try this with fillings made with mayonnaise, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes or other raw veggies.) You can even make a whole week’s worth of sandwiches ahead of time and stick them in the freezer. Your child’s sandwich will keep the rest of the food cool and thaw by lunchtime. Alternatively, throw in a frozen juice box or water bottle, which will act as an ice pack. You might even consider sandwiching the sandwich between a frozen juice box and an ice pack. Keep several in the freezer so they’re always ready.

Don’t let hot foods get cool To avoid food poisoning, soups and other hot foods should still be at 140 degrees when served. Thayer suggests you fill an insulated stainless steel container made for hot foods with extremely hot water, let it sit for a few minutes, spill out and immediately fill with hot food. Then keep the container tightly closed until lunchtime.

Do tell kids to toss it If you’re packing perishables, make sure your child knows that if the food isn’t cold when he opens his lunchbox, he shouldn’t eat it, says Thayer. In addition, direct him to throw out all leftovers when lunch is over: You don’t want your child eating a spoiled sandwich on the bus home. And no matter how tempted you are to economize, never reuse any foil, plastic wrap, or paper and plastic bags, which could be contaminated with dangerous bacteria.