family building motherhood

8 Ways to Foster Siblings Who PLAY Together

Alternate title: How to Encourage Sibling Bonding 🙂 

I mean it when I say I can’t think of anything I have enjoyed more about motherhood than watching our children’s relationships unfold.

Eighteen months apart, our boys have never really known being without each other. When someone asks the younger one how old he is, he answers with his age and the age of his brother—even when his brother isn’t there—almost as if the two of them are one entity in his head. 🙂

They also treat their little sister like a celebrity, giving her wet kisses and hugs before EVERY nap and always begging to go see her when she is sleeping.

Despite typical sibling squabbles (which DO—full disclosure—grate on my nerves), I’m incredibly grateful that our kids get along as well as they do, and I wanted to share a few ideas for the mom who is thinking about how to encourage sibling bonding among her own.

8 Ways to Foster Siblings Who PLAY Together

1. Set the stage. Trigger imaginations by inconspicuously laying out out play dough, bath paints, superhero capes, play food, tea cups, etc (“invitations to play”). A new activity, especially when they think it was their idea, never fails to reset moods and reengage siblings.

2. Be wary of TV. When the noise level starts to get to you, it can be tempting to put on a TV show to get a few minutes of peace. But I’ve noticed that TV zaps my kids’ creative energy and brings them to me afterward with the inevitable, “Nowww what??” So as long as they are maintaining their creative “flow,” try not to interrupt it unless absolutely necessary. 🙂

3. Consider having them share a room. I think we often undervalue how comforting it can be for kids to share space, especially in the dark of night, with a sibling. It also gives them time to develop their relationship without guidance or pressure from their parents. (Aside: My husband and his brother shared a bed straight through high school. I know.)

4. Be lenient with bedtime antics—as long as they’re in their room. If it works for your family, consider building in some extra time for them to play in their room before bed. It may mean more of a mess to clean up in the morning, but it also means uninterrupted sibling bonding. Even when they are colluding against us, we secretly don’t mind because we know it is cementing their friendship. 🙂

5. Don’t compare. This one goes without saying, but try not to draw even small, seemingly harmless comparisons. (“See how Trenton did his buckle as soon as we got in the car?”) Sometimes these comparisons can be SO tempting (and useful in the moment!), so it takes a lot of practice to zip your lips.

6. Step out. As much as possible, leave them to work out their own problems. My husband’s mom is famous for saying “I’m not your referee” to her dueling sons, and now I find myself saying the same thing to mine. Kids are shockingly capable of working through conflict when parents remove themselves from the situation.

Protip: Literally remove yourself. 🙂 Getting out of their line of sight will make them less likely to call on you for a solution!

(See this recent Forbes article for a swift kick about why over-involvement can cripple our kids.)

7. Be the eye of the storm. I picked this tip up from a blogger and mother of five whom I really admire: be the eye of the storm, the calm in the middle of the hurricane, for your family. To read an interesting dialogue between a mom and two fighting siblings (an example of being the “eye”), check out this article at Psychology Today.

8. Talk them up! Take every chance you get to verbally notice their positive interactions, try not to lay on the pressure for them to be examples for each other, and express gratitude for their relationships in family prayers. See the good and speak of it—every day.

siblings5 siblings2

siblings3 siblings4

Four spontaneous moments as our sons have grown: Trenton helping Chase down some steps; holding hands in the car; Trenton napping next to the crib (for weeks) so he could be closer to Chase; and the beginnings of many, many hours of creative play in their bedroom. 

  • Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake
    January 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Oh, thank you for these words. I spend way too much time worrying about the relationship of my toddler and soon-to-be-born baby. My sisters and I had our moments of rivalry and fighting, but overall we had wonderful relationships growing up and we definitely played together. 🙂

  • alane
    January 28, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Hello again, (I am Alicia M.’s mom), and I just love your clear voice. How I wish I would have had someone to say things like this when I was raising my kids. So many things you write about need to be clarified and said…and you have a great voice for that. A and I talk about your blog and I ask her if she has read this one or that…keep up the great work!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 28, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Alane! You are the cutest. I remember our previous conversations, but I didn’t realize YOU were Alicia’s mom! You raised an awesome woman. I’m touched that you guys talk about my posts – thank you so much for telling me. It makes me want to keep writing!

  • Lisa-The Domestic Life Stylist
    January 28, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I love seeing the interaction between our kids also. Although it is still brand new, I see baby brother looking at big sis with light in his eyes whenever she walks into the room. It is such an awesome thing to watch. I’ll be pinning this for when baby bro starts to walk and talk and dynamics start to change 🙂

  • Becca
    January 28, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    First…your children are absolutely beautiful! What fantastic pictures capturing the moments of which you’re speaking. Thank you for your tips – there are some great reminders in here for fostering the flourishing relationships between our little guys (4 & 2). I agree, that might be just the most amazing part of watching them grow up is experiencing them becoming friends with one another! I was happy to read your post today and find your blog – I hopped on over from Paula’s comments 🙂

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Becca! Thank you so much for your sweet comment – I’m glad we found each other! I’ve already hopped over to your blog and can tell we would get along IRL. 😉 I enjoyed reading about your goals for 2014, especially the idea of serving with your kids once a month. What a great goal!

      You have a good week, and let’s keep in touch!

  • Desirae
    January 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Very helpful ideas! I really need to work on not comparing my kids – this article is a great motivation to work on this. I love witnessing the moments that my kids are having fun and playing with each other. They can get each other laughing like nothing else can. Great article, Erica!!

  • Gabrielle
    January 28, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Love this! My kids are so close, both in age and intimacy. For a while,we had our 2 year old sleeping in a double bed with our 4 year old and I really think it brought them closer together! There were times when she could understand his toddler speak far better than we could. Now that we’ve moved him back into a room with his little brother, my boys are starting to get super close. They wake up and start laughing together. I love it!

  • Lisa
    January 28, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Great ideas! I need to work on stepping out of the arguments–letting them work it out together. I really love the times where they’re playing together though! It’s so cute to hear their ideas, see what they do together, and understand what’s important to them.

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 28, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      I continually need to work on that one, too, Lisa. It usually feels quicker to step in and get it done, rather than tolerate their (much more roundabout) way of doing it. 🙂 Gotta RESIST THE URGE! 🙂

  • stacy
    January 29, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Oh what a treasure to pop over and find this beautiful article, hope you don’t mind but I am flipping it here:

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Stacy! I am a big fan of yours, so I am honored! Please flip away anytime you want; I really appreciate the exposure. And if you are ever looking for a guest poster for KSW, I’m your girl! 🙂

      Thanks again! Have a great week.

  • Jenesha
    January 29, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas. As a soon-to-be mom of 2 girls under 2, it’ll be awhile before they “play” together…but I’ll definitely be coming back to this in the future! 🙂

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 29, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Jenesha! Thank you for your kind comment, and congrats on welcoming Baby Girl #2 soon! I have cherished watching our kids develop their relationships. I actually wrote a post that might be even more geared to you; maybe it’ll help you get through the first month or two with clearer expectations. Good luck!

  • Jelli
    January 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    I just LOVE these photos. Your tips are great, especially about talking them up. That’s been incredibly helpful for my toddler to adjust to being a big sister. Thanks for sharing!

  • Autumn
    January 30, 2014 at 1:26 am

    I love this! I often worry a lot more about this than I probably should because of my relationship with my siblings. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  • Tiffanie Hoffmann
    January 30, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I still haven’t mastered this stepping out of arguments thing. Every time I attempt it a physical brawl results because they seem frustrated and unable to figure out how to resolve things on their own. I’ve tried to explain the process of resolution they should use but haven’t made much progress yet. I’ve decided I’d rather be a coach and referee when it’s still in the frustrated voices stage than when it’s erupted into full scale warfare.

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 30, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      Haha, understandable! I do the same thing when it gets to that point! 🙂

  • Holli
    January 31, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Love the tip about getting out of the way and letting them handle the situation. (And yes, as soon as they see you, it’s over!) I often “hide” behind the corner and listen and silently cheer them on. Sometimes…it works.

    Beautiful post and photos.

  • toi
    February 2, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Wonderful read. I’m a new mother of two and I can see how much my daughter loves her brother. I pray that stays the same and I agree with your tips for helping siblings bond, especially point 5 and 6

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 2, 2014 at 4:42 am

      Hi Toi! Thank you so much for taking the time to say hello! Congrats on the birth of your little boy! I’m impressed your keeping a foot in the blogging world with your baby so little. (But I DO relate to the need to have a little space for creativity and processing thought, no matter what stage I’m in!) I’m glad we found each other, too, through Casey’s linkup, and I hope you’ll keep in touch!

  • Alexis @ We Like to Learn as We Go
    February 4, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    I love this post! It’s so important to me that my kids are good friends. They’re close in age so I’m hoping that makes it a little easier. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these great tips! I’m featuring this at my link party tonight and pinning!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 4, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Oh thank you so much, Alexis! I will hop over tonight to check it out! I appreciate it!

  • Nicolette Springer
    February 6, 2014 at 2:27 am

    I agree, one of my greatest Mom moments is watching my girls play together. I try my best to implement most of these but haven’t try the “I’m not your referee” yet. I will be adding that one next time.

    Have your boys always shared a room? If not at what age did they start?

    Thanks for sharing with the Mommy Brain Mixer last week. Hope to see you again tomorrow 🙂

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 7, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Nicolette! Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you! Our boys have shared a room since the younger one was about 10 months and the older one a few months over age 2. So basically as long as they can remember. 🙂 It does come up with a few challenges (like them occasionally getting in playing spurts where they stay up later than they should :), but overall we really love it. Do your girls share a room?

  • Branson
    February 6, 2014 at 2:45 am

    I loved the photos in this post so much! Definitely makes me hope God decides my little guy needs a sibling 😉

  • Whitney
    February 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I love these ideas! I have 5 babes and this is such an important topic to me! Thanks much!!

  • Sara
    February 15, 2014 at 5:12 am

    These are some great tips for us Mama’s with squabbling littles! Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for linking up with us at Tell Me About It Tuesday! I hope you hop over again next week.

  • Kory
    March 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I tell my girls all the time (I have 3 daughters) that they’re not only sisters but best friends and that they have to take care of each other. It’s worked so great! that and the fact they share a room. I know they will all be best buddies for life!

    • Erica Layne
      March 25, 2014 at 9:59 am

      That’s so sweet, Kory! Setting the stage just by the way YOU talk is so important.

  • Simple Ways to Encourage Sibling Bonding - Lemon Lime Adventures
    November 9, 2015 at 8:43 am

    […] top tip is to see the good and speak of it—every day. Notice and praise all of their positive interactions, instead of focusing on the […]

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