Dear Rachel,

Every week the same scenario plays out at our family game night. I come home from work, we have dinner, and then we pick out a game to play together as a family. Things seem to be going fine as we set up the game, and we all take our first few turns. Then things start to go wrong.

My ten-year-old daughter usually tries to go for the younger ones during their turn, and she tries to skip her older brothers' turn by saying that he already went. She gets very upset, and I mean she throws a tantrum, cries, and says some variation of us not loving her/we favor another child/or some other similar complaint. We have tried ignoring it, giving in to her, and even giving her more attention during the game. Not only have none of these things worked, but, we feel that it's unfair to our other children who are participating cooperatively.

Both my husband and I want her to be part of the evening, but, we don't know how to keep the peace and yet, give every child the attention that they deserve. Do you have any suggestions on how to help our family game night?


Dear Frustrated,

What a challenging situation you face every week. It must be so hard to try and make Family Game Night, a pleasant, enjoyable and memorable experience for everyone. I applaud you for your honesty about how you feel about the situation, and I hope that in this letter, I will be able to help you with some of the more pressing issues. For some reason, your 10-year-old daughter is feeling either threatened or jealous of her siblings. Often, children will feel this way when they have low self esteem, and these feelings of low self esteem are coupled with the challenges of blossoming adolescence. The question is how to deal with it in a way that will help her feel better and yet not alienate any of the other kids.

Any set family activity, be it a game night, or family dinner, is a microcosm of the family's dynamics for the entire week. I would recommend taking a few moments to evaluate how your daughter manages the rest of the week the relationships that she has with you, your wife and her siblings?

I also recommend seriously evaluation whether you are spending sufficient time with her and whether that time is spent in the proper fashion. Of course all parents spend time with their children, but here I am specifically talking about quality time. Your daughter may be feeling that she is not getting this type of time with you.

Think about what each child is like, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Explore with them the activities that they enjoy the most. As the parent, it is important for you and your wife to try and focus on each child for a period of time each day. When you are spending time with that child, make it a time when you are doing with that child, what that child wants to be doing, and, keep all negativity out of it.

Any set family activity, be it a game night, or family dinner, is a microcosm of the family's dynamics for the entire weekIn terms of your daughter, you first need to find out what are some of her main interests, if you do not already know them. Then, during this focused time, spend time talking about and/or engaging in that activity. This period of time should be uninterrupted, and it should be daily. Taking this time out for each of your children will reinforce to them how important they are to you. If you do it properly, she will feel like you are focusing on her, and she will enjoy this time together. And, it may have surprisingly beneficial results for your game night, and the rest of the week.

I agree with you that she needs to learn that her siblings need and deserve the chance to participate freely and without interruption. The question becomes how to do this without alienating her. You should ask yourself why you think that she is doing this. Is she bored during their turns? Are the other children making fun of her? Try and figure out something productive for her to do when it's not her turn. Maybe get food for everyone? Organize the other game pieces?

Before the game even gets started, let your children know how much you love having everyone together. Make a point of acknowledging all of your kids' positive behavior, before something negative happens. If you can't think of something positive to say for one of your children, then create a job for them to excel at and this will give you an opportunity to be proud of them. Starting the game off on a positive note can do wonders for the rest of the evening.

Ignoring certain behaviors can do wonders in terms of reducing the stress for everyone involved. Unless there is something major going on between the kids, try to ignore and distract them. Often times, minor skirmishes between siblings get out of control because the parents get involved. You would be amazed at how adept kids are for dealing with each other given the chance.

I want to wish you a lot of luck with this challenging situation. May you be blessed with the ability to always care for your children's emotional and physical needs.