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Bridging the sibling age gap during playtime

Need ideas to encourage siblings with an age gap to play nicely together? Patience and praise help bridge the gap.

brother and sister playing together

If there is an age gap between your children, finding a balance of activities for playtime can be a real challenge. Older children don’t want to do “babyish” things, and the little ones aren’t yet ready to tackle most of the games and toys that the older child is intrigued with. Use some smart strategy to help kids bridge the gap and enjoy playing together!

Time limit

Older kids will get tired of having to include their younger sibling in playtime, so make sure that they are rewarded for playing nicely with some time to play independently or with their own friends.

Rules to keep and to break

Some rules are not negotiable. An older child must understand that sharing and taking turns is important and part of playing fair. Let the older sibling know that she is responsible for setting an example for the younger child. Explain that the little brother or sister looks up to her, and ask for her help. Kids like knowing that they are in charge!

Younger children may not be ready or able to follow the rules on some games. If the rules are too complicated, simplify them so the younger child isn’t left out when the fun begins. Have the older sibling help you adjust and make new rules — so everyone is able to play together. Asking her to help gets her on board with the changes.


Praise your older children for what they know and excel at, and encourage them to help younger children learn while they play.

An older sibling can teach numbers and letters during play, help a smaller child learn about colors, or even encourage a love of stories by reading a favorite book to a smaller brother or sister. The older child will feel proud to display his skills, and these activities are great bonding time for them to share and a productive learning experience for everyone.

Make a big deal out of it when your older child encourages his younger siblings through creative play. Let him know you’re proud of him and appreciative of his efforts. Tell him he is a good role model and emphasize his importance in his sibling’s life. And as a parent, share some uninterrupted playtime just with him. The balancing act of love and attention for multiple children is difficult, and the needs of the younger children and babies often make the oldest feel slighted. Be sure that you regularly spend one-on-one time with the older child every day.

More tips

Making playtime educational
Keeping playtime safe
Toddler boredom busters

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