8 Tips to Encourage Play Between Siblings
The Benefits of Sibling Relationships vs. Sibling Rivalry
With over 20 years of experience working with children and families, Amanda is the founder and CEO of Fundamentally Children, home of the Good Toy Guide and Good App Guide, providing families with expert, independent advice on child development and play, as well as supporting businesses with family-focused research, insight, and endorsement.
Amanda is regularly in the media and widely considered the UK’s go-to expert on play, toys and child development. She combines her theoretical knowledge with a refreshingly pragmatic approach to family life, which resonates both with parents and Professionals. Amanda's book ‘Play’ (2015) has been translated into two different languages and she is also involved in government policy around children’s issues, as a member of two All Party Parliamentary Groups.
- Avoid using labels
- Keep an open mind and judge each situation on its merits to avoid reinforcing “victim” and “aggressor” roles
- Keep things in proportion - all children argue at times
- Stay out of the argument as long as you can
- Remain calm and help your children do the same
- Try not to take sides
- Focus on the relationship, not the wrong doing
The majority of children around the world have at least one sibling. Sibling relationship is more likely to last longer than any other relationship in one’s lifetime and as such, it plays a major role in their overall development.
In early childhood, two major characteristics of sibling relations are prominent (Howe, et al., 2011). First, sibling interactions are emotionally charged relationships by strong, uninhibited emotions of a positive, negative and sometimes mixed quality (Volling, 2003). Second, sibling relations are defined by intimacy; as youngsters spend large amounts of time playing together. This long history and intimate knowledge translate into opportunities for providing emotional and instrumental support for one another (Howe and Rinaldi, 2004), engaging in role play (Howe et al, 2014), for conflict (Recchia & Howe, 2010), and for understanding others’ points of view (Recchia & Howe, 2008).
Playing is an important part of life for young children and it should be a part of their everyday routine, as they learn important lessons and develop holistically through play. However, when siblings play together it doesn’t always go so smoothly. If there is a big age gap between siblings, one or more of them may experience sibling rivalry, or they don’t want to play the same games, meaning getting siblings to play together can become tricky.
However, whether older or younger, having a sibling can help the other learn about the world, especially with older siblings acting as role models. The positive influence of acting as a role model is thought to extend to younger siblings’ capacity to feel care & sympathy for those in need. Research in Canada has found that younger siblings also contribute to their older siblings’ empathy in early childhood, therefore both influencing each other’s empathic concern over time.
In one study, Dr. Sarah Berger, Ph.D., (Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island, in New York) found that with the support of positive cognitive development from an older sibling, 60% of younger siblings walked earlier than their older brother or sister. This is because babies often learn by watching and older siblings can make effective coaches. Therefore, younger siblings are more likely to benefit through different types of play with their older siblings as they are imitating them constantly, learning quicker and boosting brainpower.
Older siblings are good for being the younger sibling's (baby/ toddler) translator and in play this lays the foundation of literacy by learning to make and practice new sounds heard from their older sibling. Younger children also become more imaginative through imitation; a recent study shows that one-year-olds mimic 50% of their siblings’ behavior, encouraging storytelling. Most importantly playing with your sibling provides a special brand of fun and entertainment that parents just cannot provide, which in fact gives parents a needed breather.
Tips for Nice Play Between Siblings:
- Let the older child know your expectations
- Make sure you give the older child enough one-on-one attention
- Tell the older children how much their younger siblings look up to them
- Provide them with time for unstructured play
- Don't force too much togetherness with siblings
- Notice and promote the activities that get your children playing together
- Resist the temptation to interrupt happy play - leave them as long as possible if they’re playing well together
- Compliment them on happy/nice playing