Parenting one child is no walk in the park, parenting two gets a bit trickier, parenting more than two.... Well I don't have any first-hand experience with that, but from this email I got, I can only imagine:
I get frustrated because they all want my attention in different ways at once! I have 4 kids, between ages 8 and 6 months and one wants to nurse, one wants the Cat in the Hat, one wants Jack and Annie, and one wants to show me how to do a cool new origami design!
Other parents write to tell me their children won't stop fighting with their siblings and they struggle with how to keep them all busy without the aid of a movie or video game.
I have a hard time finding things that engage everyone without destroying the house that I already struggle with maintaining
I have two boys and I am well acquainted with sibling rivalry, fighting, whining, the endless desire to annoy your brother. I've seen it all and I've gone right to the edge of sanity—and I won't deny I've lost my mind a time or two (or ten thousand).
One solution that works for me is to have a treasure trove of sibling activities on hand. I've collected games that siblings of different ages can play, bonding activities that will stop the fighting and start the sloooow process of getting along. Most of these sibling activities can be adopted for children of different ages; **if your kids are under age 3 I've indicated which ideas will work best.
At the bottom of this post is a printable list of the activities. (Note: this post contains affiliate links.)
1. Know your children's tolerance for competition. Although we love to play games, unless there is an adult at the table, I encourage my kids to play cooperative sibling games, or games with which they have an established low-whining track record.
2. If your children have difficulty cooperating, save working on that for when you have a lot of energy. (Dare to dream.) Instead, set up the sibling activities side by side. I've found that when each child has his own version of the activity that can actually lead to more cooperation, since the stakes are lowered.
3. Choose activities designed to promote laughter between brothers and sisters. It goes without saying (but here I am, saying it anyway) that laughter promotes bonding.
4. Set up activities in which the older sibling can help his or her younger siblings, or those which give the younger sibling a sense of control.
5. Most of all: stay flexible. There is no perfect sibling activity. (Sorry!) Sometimes siblings can't do anything but bug each other. When all else fails: give them food.
Activities for Siblings that Incite Laughter
Funny animal walks. Siblings take turns calling out a different type of animal and everyone has to walk like that until someone calls out "change!" **Can be done with children under 3.
Funny Face Freeze. Who can hold their funny face the longest without laughing? **Can be done with children under 3.
Mad Libs. These never get boring in our house. TIP: print out a list of words (this site has some great ones) for kids who may need help figuring out the difference between an adverb and an adjective.
Drawing Game. Exquisite corpse is a variation on the Funny Flips word game, but perfect for kids who like to draw. Each sibling is assigned a top, middle or bottom of a segmented creature. The results will be hilarious.
Try this synchronized drawing game (see video below). Siblings will take turns leading the drawing. Siblings of different ages will need to be considerate of the other's skill level making this an activity which promotes empathy and bonding. **Can be done with children under 3 (add in some extra patience, and don't expect perfection.)
Funny Flips. For kids with literacy skills, turn this game into a cooperative activity. Siblings will each add their words in secret and laugh at the resulting sentences.
Creative Activities for Siblings
Build with cups. Suppling your children with a huge supply of paper or plastic cups provides a surprisingly large amount of fun. Knocking the towers down is essential. **Can be done with children under 3
Paper airplanes. Set up a landing strip. Cooperate on building one giant one, or build side by side landing strips. Or build a carnival style target. Again, one big one or side by side. **Can be done with children under 3 (someone older will need to fold the airplane)
Painting on windows. Because this activity seems a bit like "breaking the rules" children take to it very quickly. **Can be done with children under 3.
Create clear frame portraits. This idea from my friend Meredith at Homegrown Friends is fantastic. Lots of laughs and a partner is absolutely necessary! **Can be done with children under 3.
Collaborative art. Big paper on the table, floor or wall. Tip: if necessary, divide the big paper into assigned sections. We are never without our giant roll of paper. **Can be done with children under 3.
Collaborative sculpture. Collect recyclables and store in a large bin. Encourage kids to build a robot or other giant creation. Add in colorful washi tape or playful duct tape to hold it all together. **Can be done with children under 3.
Pulley or bucket on a string. A pulley is a must have item. Alternatively, attach a long rope to a bucket. Toss it over the limb of a tree, hang it from a balcony, over a stair rail or out a window. Obviously you should practice good safety. Small children should have their feet firmly planted on the lower level, but they will love getting messages or objects delivered to them via a bucket on a pulley or lowered down to them on a rope. An inexpensive clothesline pulley is perfect for kids. **Can be done with children under 3, patience required.
Games for Siblings
Make Your Own Games:
The benefit to making your own games is that drawing the board and collecting the pieces can be not just a way to keep kids busy for longer, but a collaborative activity and gives them a sense of ownership over the game.
Sibling trivia. Come up with a list of questions such as "what is your favorite food, what is your favorite color?," etc. Everyone writes down their answer. Then siblings try to guess each other's answers. Once the guess has been made, the other child reveals his or her answers. This is a great bonding game. **Can be done with children under 3. Pre-writers can guess the answers, or answer their own questions without writing them down.
Scavenger Hunt. Each child makes a list of 10 items that his sibling must find. For example, "something blue, something shiny, something sweet, etc." Siblings can team up for bonding or work independently.
Memory Tray Game. This is a classic game. Spread a variety of objects on a tray. Stare at it for 1 minute. Remove the tray from view and then everyone tries to remember as many objects as they can. Younger siblings can be in charge of the tray and try and trick big brother or big sister. **Can be done with children under 3, do not use objects that can be swallowed.
Balloon toss up. Every one can have their own balloon, or they can work together to keep a single balloon in the air. For more fun, make paddles out of paper plates and paint stirring sticks (spoons or rulers will work, too). **Can be done with children under 3 (be sure to practice good safety)
Cup switch-up. Siblings will have fun with this classic activity. Place a penny under one of three cups. One sibling slides the cups around while the other tries to follow and keep tract of the penny. When the cups come to a stop, guess where the penny is!
Martinetti dice game. Best for children who have basic addition skills.
Try a traditional game that uses light strategy skills:
Nine Holes, a classic 3 in a row game for kids who want to try something other than Tic Tac Toe.
Pong Hau K'i. This is a very simple, but fun traditional game from China.
Cooperative Board Games:
If your children squabble during game time, switch things up and try a game that requires siblings to work together. Here are some that I've featured as games of the month:
- Rivers, Roads and Rails. **Can be done with children under 3, with assistance.
- Search and Rescue.
- Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island.
Print out the list of activities and put it on your fridge for a quick reminder: PRINTABLE LIST OF ACTIVITIES
More help to keep those siblings happy and working together:
- Sibling Tip Jar
- Sibling Kindness Advent Calendar
- Family Kindness Tokens
- Ugly but Awesome Easy Indoor Activities
- Indoor Ball Games
- Indoor Family Games (no board necessary)