Sibling relationships can be complex. Siblings can be enjoying each other’s company one minute and fighting the next. Despite the fights, tears and rivalry, with the right guidance, boundaries and encouragement, siblings can develop a unique and strong bond.
We are largely aware of the benefits of play and all the learning that happens through play. By encouraging siblings to play together, they can learn from each other, understand each other better and of course, make memories together while creating a bond that will last far beyond their growing up years. But getting siblings to play together may not be so easy, especially when there’s a bigger age difference or when they don’t enjoy the same games. But a bigger age difference between siblings can also mean that younger children can learn a lot from their older siblings and play can facilitate natural observation and learning. As parents, we want our kids to not only get along but also enjoy each other, play together and keep each other company. Let’s look at our top 7 tips to encourage sibling play.
If siblings are to enjoy each other’s company, we first need to keep the sibling rivalry in check. Spending alone time with each of your children on a regular basis, helps them feel secure and loved, making them less likely to feel jealous and insecure about their siblings. Make it a part of your daily routine to spend exclusive time with each of your children, letting them decide how they want to spend that time with you.
Let your kids make the rules and decide how they want to spend their time together. This also gives you an insight into the dynamics of their relationship. It can be difficult to get siblings to play structured games when younger siblings are too young to understand the rules of the games. Unstructured playtime, on the other hand, creates opportunities for children to play at their own level and make their own rules.
Siblings are first individual beings and each child needs their space and time alone. Insisting that your children play together all the time or share all their toys can only create frustration, making your child feel trapped. Older children also can get frustrated when younger siblings don’t understand the rules of the game or spoil something they’re working on. So insisting they include the younger siblings in every game can also harbour resentment. If you notice your child is tired, hungry not in the best mood or already engaged in some other game, do not insist they play with their sibling.
Spend some time observing what your kids enjoy doing together. Maybe they enjoy playing a sport together, cycling or reading a book to each other, a harmless pillow fight or spending time at the park. Note activities they both participate in and enjoy and create opportunities for them to have more of that.
While it’s tempting to barge in when your children are playing together, you could actually be disrupting their flow, so resist the temptation, to interrupt their play. As long as they’re playing well, leave them be. You can quickly compliment them on how well they are playing together and monitor them from a distance.
Siblings will have quarrels and fallouts but it can’t be the only interaction they have. As parents, we need to ensure they balance it out with positive interactions and have plenty of amicable play. While they will fight, it is important to teach them how to resolve their fights. Teach your children how to use their words and express their feelings, how to take turns, how to listen and how to negotiate. Give them opportunities to solve problems together, discuss, and come up with solutions to resolve a disagreement or fight. Monitor their play and observe their interactions. When you see they are getting restless or irritable give them a break.
By default, siblings might choose to be on opposite teams while they play team games, but you can encourage cooperation and bonding by pairing them together. Kids vs parents, or siblings vs cousins/friends. Let your kids experience how they can work together and have fun as a team.
Sibling relationships are important because they are more likely to last longer than other relationships. They can be instrumental in your child’s development. A strong, healthy bond between your children can provide them with comfort, security and emotional support as they grow older. Getting your children to play together and without fights overpowering their play can involve a bit of effort but is definitely worth persevering.