Dad: Harness the Power of Sibling Competition

by Jay Payleitner

Competition between siblings (or cousins) is a great tool for dads. While you can still outsmart them, there are all kinds of ways you can shape and motivate your kids and they won’t even know it.

Got a pile of bricks that need to be moved from here to there? On your mark, get set, go. Winner gets an extra scoop of ice cream. To make it fair, you can weight the number of bricks according to age and ability. Maybe the younger sibling gets to count each brick twice. If the brick carriers are fairly close in age, maybe the results are weighted 3 to 2. Or 4 to 3. Suddenly the brick race also turns into a math exercise. The goal is to give any and all the kids a chance to win. (And to get those bricked moved.)

For a while, the principle might also work with other projects that need doing. Got a laundry basket of socks to be matched? A yard full of small branches to be collected? Or how about racing to finish shoveling their portion of the driveway or raking their half of the lawn? Add penalty seconds for a sloppy job or a bonus for helping each other.

One of my favorite bedtime games was the sibling math race. This works with any two or even three kids, even when they’re in different classes at school. Each round begins when the moderator (that’s you) says two single-digit numbers. For instance: “Seven, five. ” The younger child has to add them together: “Twelve.” The older child has to multiply them: “Thirty-five.” The even older child might have to square the numbers, and then add them. “Seventy-four.” It may sound unlikely, but sibling math races can get quite amusing. Especially when you start using fractions, negative numbers, numbers with multiple digits, and so on.

Be warned, you will definitely hear squeals of, “That’s not fair.” Especially when you slowly begin to say the next two numbers, “Zero … “ If you don’t know why that’s funny, you need to review your third grade math. Please note:

This kind of sibling competition is not a trigger or catalyst for sibling rivalry.

Actually, it’s just the opposite! Healthy competition with Dad as “game show host and referee” helps all children realize and appreciate the joy of being part of a family. Especially if Dad initiates rules that level the playing field and makes sure everyone has a chance to claim victory during the competition.

Try this out in the car, at bedtime, around a campfire, or anytime you find yourself with nothing to do in a waiting room or queue. This is more than just a learning exercise; it’s a lesson in family dynamics and individual giftedness. And a good reason to put down their screens.

Older kids will learn that their younger siblings are not just whiny brats, but are on the journey of life, and part of their job as big brother or big sister is to help them forge a path of lifelong learning. Younger kids will realize they still have mental and physical muscles to build, and they can trust their older siblings to be a role model, teacher, and protector.

How have you done similar things with your kids? Tell us (and other dads) about it at the Facebook page here or catch up with Jay here.

Read more of Jay’s contributions to

Jay Payleitner is a popular speaker for men’s events and the bestselling author of 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands, the soon-to-be-released Checking the Boxes Only You Can Check: 40 Ways to Make the World a Better Place and dozens of other books. Jay and his high school sweetheart, Rita, live in St. Charles, Illinois where they raised five awesome kids, loved on ten foster babies, and are cherishing grandparenthood. Find out more about Jay — including a free download to help design your own men’s weekend at

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