By Dolores Smyth
No sooner had I nestled myself into the family room recliner to enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book than I heard the litany of gripes bemoaned from upstairs.
“Why can’t that kid play with his own toys?! He always steals my stuff! Why can’t I just lock my dooooor?”
The litany’s lister? My tween daughter. The thief? My toddler son. And the item my son had “stolen” likely came from the tangle of toys and clothing heaped together in my daughter’s bedroom storage chest. My almost-3-year-old son had taken to rifling through this collection of “stuff” the way a frugal shopper rummages through similar piles at a yard sale.
I got up to settle our home’s latest melee and found my son first, in the hallway. He was wearing his big sister’s puppy dog earmuffs and pushing his toy lawnmower across our hardwood floor while making steady rumbling sounds like an actual lawnmower. My daughter stomped down the stairs just then, stopping short to gape at my audacity in admiring my little landscaper. I was clearly not understanding the gravity of my toddler’s novelty earmuff theft.
In the not-so-distant past, my tween and toddler had been inseparable. In fact, my daughter had had a standing open-door policy when it came to her little brother playing in her room. She liked having him around and he lit up in her presence.
Lately, however, my tween had grown more possessive of her belongings and less patient with her little bro. She’d even started snapping at him whenever he was within 10 feet of her stuff. My toddler responded to his big sister’s newfound annoyance with him by staring at her in wide-eyed bewilderment.
Worried by the thought of my kids growing further apart as they got older, I looked for ways to help them restore their once-strong bond. I knew that encouraging my tween to be more patient with her little brother took constant reminding; moving her possessions out of his grasp was a short-term solution; and letting her lock her bedroom door to keep him (and everyone else) out was a non-starter.
Instead, I brainstormed easy activities for my kids to enjoy doing together. These activities gave my toddler the interaction he craved with his older sister and my tween some of the authority she wanted as a “big kid”.
Here are the activities that helped my tween and toddler reconnect:
1. Let your older kid be the pro teaching the newbie
On a low-set table, I spread out stickers, blank sheets of papers, colouring supplies and jumbo puzzles. My daughter is a talented artist who was only too eager to instruct her little brother on how to best position stickers, scribble waxy crayon lines and fit together large jigsaw pieces.
This colourful mix of activities was a good fit for my toddler’s short attention span and my daughter’s creative spirit. This activity kept them happily entertained for the better part of an hour.
2. Hand over the story time reins
For this activity, I took a break from being the story time reader and let my tween take the reins. Since a child’s interpretation of a story tends to be more vivid than an adult’s, my toddler listened in delight at his big sister’s fresh take on oft-read stories.
Some of our favourite toddler-friendly books are “Snuggle Puppy”, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Five Cars Stuck and One Big Truck: A Pop-up Road Trip”.
3. Return to basics with a game of hide-and-seek
Luckily for my toddler, my tween is still young enough to enjoy a good ol’ fashioned game of hide-and-seek. I joined in for this activity and my daughter had a blast seeking her brother and me, and my son shrieked with excitement each time we were found. When it was my toddler’s turn to seek, this activity became a fun way for him to practice counting.
As a bonus way to bond, I had my kids team up. They scoured our home to find me when I hid and conspired to find new hiding spots when I sought.
4. Take a step back on the playground
Swings, slides and jungle gyms, oh my! These are fun activities for tweens and toddlers alike. For our day at the playground, I sat on a nearby bench and asked my tween to push her brother on a bucket swing and guide him down the slides.
At first, my tween played with her brother begrudgingly. However, her interest perked up when some of her friends spotted us and walked over to fawn over my son. All that cooing reminded my daughter that her little brother was pretty cool after all.
5. Let your toddler take the lead in planning playtime
In our home, everyone gets to plan some portion of “family time,” even our toddler! I expanded upon this practice by having my tween ask her little brother what he’d like to play during their sibling bonding time. Elated to pick the game, my son zoomed from room to room and amassed a stash of cars, which he proudly presented to his sister as playtime options.
It wasn’t long before my daughter and son were on the floor racing cars. She even ran upstairs to pluck two pairs of earmuffs (of all things!) From her storage chest, put one pair on my son and the other on herself, and the two of them pretended to be announcers talking into headsets.
Siblings will always have their differences and parents will always urge them to get along anyway. The relationship our children have with each other in the long-run is up to them. However, while our kids are young, we can nudge their relationship along by helping them enjoy each other’s company in the hopes of creating strong bonds that will last a lifetime.
Dolores Smyth is a freelance writer and mother of three. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work @lolawordsmyth.