"The holiday passed in a haze of bickering. By all accounts, my children play beautifully together when I am not around. However, they seem to save this secret ability to relate to each other well for those precious mommy-free moments. As soon as I enter the scene, the 'Who's going to win Mommy's attention' game continues in full-swing. Their constant bickering is driving me crazy, and making the holiday season into a nightmare. I can't wait for them to go back to school."

Don't despair if the above scene describes your typical holiday experience. This article is intended to address the psychological challenges of spending time as a family, and provide practical advice to safeguard the positive quality of your family interactions while taking steps to prevent the situation from deteriorating into an all-out struggle for parental attention.

While a sibling relationship has the potential to be a treasured and beautiful relationship, it is not a given that all sibling relationships will achieve this potential. Most do not, because the unique stresses involved in sharing both parents and living space, and the competition for limited family resources can turn the sibling relationship into a fierce rivalry.

If this is the pattern you have been observing in your home until now, relax. First of all, this situation is a natural one, and it is present in every family at certain times. However, when sibling rivalry begins to interfere with the family's ability to spend time together as a complete unit during holidays and family gatherings, it is advisable for parents not to let nature take its course, but rather to employ the following tactical strategies designed to enhance family togetherness.

1. Reserve family time for bonding with the family as a whole:

Parents need to be careful not to single anyone out for special attention, whether by sitting someone on their lap, tickling them, or even by throwing them in the air. This type of parental behavior can inadvertently set the stage for a new round of conflict, by giving them an incentive to start competing for your attention. Family-time, such as time around the table during drawn-out holiday meals, and relaxing in the living room after the meal, is not the time to bond with individual children. Reserve family time for bonding with the family as a whole. If your family enjoys singing, select songs that everyone can sing. Choose games that the family can play as a whole.

While it is important to strengthen individual relationships within the family system, save that for a time when you can be alone with an individual child, for example at bedtime or while taking a walk. Many religious communities offer parent-child learning opportunities in neighborhood synagogues, which is a wonderful opportunity to focus on individual children. Every child can have some time alone in this setting. Even a young and newly literate child can spend ten minutes sitting with his father in shul.

2. Don't be a Judge or a Policeman:

As long as nobody is being physically or psychologically injured by someone else give them the space to work out their conflicts alone. Don't get more involved than you need to be. I often say to my older daughter, "Your brother is crying. What can you do to make him feel better?" Such a question is a way of empowering her and emphasizing her responsibility to find a solution. Instead of focusing on the issue of who started it or the details of what is going on, it maintains the focus on how to end the negative interaction.

3. Focus on the Long-Term Goal:

Living in Israel, I frequently observe Israeli-born children of native English-speaking parents speak to their parents in English, and then immediately switch into Hebrew when they address their sibling. This is a very tangible an example of how the sibling relationship is a distinctly separate one from the parent-child relationship, with its own set of rules and interactions, even its own language.

Parents who make the mistake of always being the middleman in their children's interactions may find that even after their children reach adulthood, they still do not relate to each other directly. If you want your children to be close to each other as adults, take yourself out of the picture now.

Let your children use this time to get to know each other, and create the bond that will accompany them for the next hundred years. This is a chance for them to interact in new ways, and deepen their connection, away from the distractions provided by school classes and friends. Their relationship is not about you, and they don't need to relate to each other the way they relate to you. While you may not want your boys wrestling with you, it is fine if they wrestle together if that is something they both enjoy. Don't worry. By the time they become adults, they will probably find a new way of relating to each other in place of wrestling, but they will still hold onto the bond that wrestling helped them to develop.