Oh, the exuberance of Christmas morning! Amid the unwrapping and laughter of the festive morning, there’s the expected glee of playing with new gifts. But, then there’s also the inevitable contention that comes when one sibling wants another to share the new toy. Are there secrets for getting siblings to play together? I think there are three – setting reasonable expectations, explaining what is expected, and modeling the expected behavior.
Set Reasonable Expectations
It is not reasonable to expect a child to give over his or her new toy, after just opening it. These are new toys and are usually things the child has specifically asked for. Letting the child have time to discover the toy is essential.
In addition, it is not reasonable to expect the child to share the new toy. The toy was given to a specific child and if that child doesn’t want to share, the child should not be forced to do so. Ownership of the toy is a key part of what makes the toy special. If the child declines the sharing request, then that decision needs to be respected. Eventually, children will share toys after the newness has worn off a little.
Finally, it is not reasonable to expect a wide age range of children play together kindly for an indefinite time period. There will be disagreements if the time the siblings are expected to play together isn’t limited. If the ability to play together is a skill being newly developed, setting smaller time limits sets the children up for success. After the children (mostly the older children) have figured out how to play kindly with their younger siblings, then the time limit can be extended. But no matter how angelic the children are, anything over an hour of unsupervised play is not to be expected. Usually, if my children have been playing nicely for an hour by themselves, I will go pop in and see how they are doing. And more importantly, I’ll check to see what they are doing. Let’s just say, that little bit of attention saves trips to emergency rooms.
Explain what is Expected
This concept is often forgotten, but previewing what is going to happen and how children are expected to behave is often the best way to help children manage their own behavior. Children want to do what is expected of them. By previewing what is happening and how they are to behave, parents give children a road map to determine if they are behaving appropriately.
Also, although younger children naturally look up to their older siblings, older siblings often don’t know what to do with that adoration. So, taking a moment to explain how to play with the younger siblings is very important. Again, children don’t always know how to do what parents expect them to do, and a little teaching goes a long way. Also, it doesn’t hurt to explain how much their younger siblings love, admire, and worship them. Taking the time to explain what they are expected to do and how to do it before they are expected to do so will help them succeed in the endeavor.
Finally, respecting older children’s need for alone time greatly helps them be able to play with their younger siblings when they are asked to do so. Everyone needs to be alone sometimes, even kids. It’s good to let them have their space – just like it’s good to let grownups have their space. Letting children have their own space allows them to be more regulated emotionally.
Model the Expected Behavior
This next secret will take a lot more time on the part of the parents. The siblings won’t know how to play with each other if they haven’t seen their parents playing with them. A lot of this modeling can be done organically. What I mean is that the parents don’t need to lecture to the older kids about what they are doing, or how they are playing with the children. The example will speak volumes. However, a little instruction is helpful to explain what exactly is being done. For example, when I’m playing with my fifth grader and preschooler, I’ll explain to my fifth grader how I let the preschooler make the decisions and take the lead in the game. I have found that after I have modeled this behavior, with minor verbal explanations, my older children are better able to play with their younger siblings.
So, the biggest secret to getting older and younger siblings to play well together is that there really isn’t a fast way to do it. It takes time, patience, and lots of teaching and re-teaching to achieve the blissful results desired.