Play Spaces for Siblings

Tips for arranging a play space for siblings of different ages…

If you have the space to have a shared play space eg a playroom or a family space in the kitchen/living room try having slightly higher shelves for the older child – but the deal is both children can play with all the toys in this space. When they know this, they feel freed up, and in fact they often get drawn to the toys that are right for their stage of development anyway!

Have a mixture of activities / toys in this shared space – easy near then bottom and harder near the top to appeal to the different ages of your children. Having activities that are really right for each child’s stage of development and interests on different shelves helps as they get drawn to what’s right for them.

Try having a little rug / carpet for each child – when they each choose an activity this marks out their play space so they can start to learn to respect each other’s space – the rule is if it’s on the shelf anyone can choose it. If it’s on the mat or a table, it’s being used.

If your children have their own rooms, you can save special toys that they don’t want the others to use for each of their bedrooms.

If they don’t have their own room, encourage the older child to pop anything special out of reach so they don’t get frustrated when smaller hands get tempted. It can help to have a special tray or box to put special things (like a Lego model that’s taken a long time!)

In all of this it’s important to try and remember that sibling relationships, as tough as they can be at times, offer an amazing gift. Is it frustrating for the older child to have to keep some stuff out of reach? Yes! Is it frustrating for the younger child not to be able to tough everything they want to? Yes! But these things teach patience, respect and community / family living.

It’s a finely tuned balance of sharing a space, cooperation, understanding and keeping special things safe. Siblings offer each other the most wonderful chance to learn about negotiation & relationships.

If we can, it’s helpful to reframe sibling squabbles as an opportunity to learn about communication, negotiation and relationships. When we are there to mediate, empathise, validate and problem-solve with them, we not only help them in this moment but we also teach them how to do these thoughts by themselves in the future. Every conflict about toys, space, or fairness is an opportunity for learning and increased understanding.

Finally, remember our job as parents isn’t to have perfect family relationships and children that never get angry or upset. Having children that get along all the time doesn’t make anyone a better parent than someone with kids who get frustrated with each other. Family life isn’t about perfection. It’s about having the kind of love that gets us through the tricky days. It’s about learning to live with each other and about learning to apologise, and forgive. It’s about hearing each other and giving everyone a voice. It’s love that makes our families, not perfection.