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Getting Siblings to ‘Get Along’ & the Importance of Self-Directed Play

If you’ve got more than one child, you’ll know all too well that ‘getting them to get along’ can sometimes be a challenge - but how wonderful it can be when their cooperative play works well.

Here are our top tips for promoting happy play amongst siblings, from the Early Years experts at Garden International School.


Let your children know what your expectations are when it comes to them playing together, and make these rules clear right from the start. For example: No hitting; no snatching toys. Deciding on some rules together, so that your children have ownership over them, is a great way to begin.

Give them Space

Give your kids the freedom to choose when it is time to play together. Children, like adults, need time on their own. They have to be in the right frame of mind to share and play cooperatively, and this usually happens when the children are in a good mood and not preoccupied with anything else.

Be sure to give your children enough time apart so that they actually want to play together!

Share the Love

Try and ensure that every child gets enough one-to-one attention, both before and after play.

When children, particularly siblings, feel that they have had their fair share of parent attention, they will be more willing to share, cooperate and communicate with their siblings.

Get the Older Children Involved

Let your older children know how much their younger siblings look up to them. Most young children go through a developmental stage which makes them naturally ego-centered.

Use this to your own advantage: flatter their ego, and they will hopefully respond by showing leadership qualities and helping to teach their siblings what they know!

Give Choice

As parents, we often tend to instruct our children what to play and when.

Although we may think that we are helping them by giving them ideas about what to do, when to do it and where to play - this can be perceived by children as us imposing upon them what to do.

As a result, children may respond by being reluctant to play together. Instead, try to give them the freedom to choose how to develop their play. If children feel that they have agency and ownership of what they are doing, they will be more inclined to make it successful.

This is known as ‘unstructured play’.

In fact, most experts agree that “unstructured play” is the best sort of play for children. But what exactly is it, and how can we help support our children in their unstructured play at home?

What is unstructured play?

Unstructured play doesn’t mean completely leaving your children to it and hoping they’ll figure out a ‘nice game’ on their own. In fact, almost all children do need some adult input to succeed in their play - otherwise it may well end in tears, tantrums and arguments.

One of the best ways to help your children is by modelling: start the imaginative play and then model how the games could work. When your children are engaged & ready to carry on by themselves, you can remove yourself from the play and let children continue the game in their own way!

Avoid telling the children how to play - just help them get started.

Carlota Viguer Serina, Year 1 Teacher at Garden International School, explains, “A great example of unstructured play comes from my own family.

One particular summer, about 25 years ago, my siblings and I were told to “go out and ride our bikes”. At first, we couldn’t believe we had been asked to go out and ride our bikes - how boring! It felt like a punishment.

But my mum had a cunning plan. At the time, the Tour de France was on TV and our whole family were obsessed with the exciting race. So, once we had our bikes outside - she came out and set up a start line and a finish line, just like in the Tour de France.

Suddenly, my siblings and I were very excited and started talking about how we could create different stages of our race! Within a few days, we had turned our entire back garden into our very own Tour de France.

We had gone to the local shops and asked them for discarded cardboard boxes and we had worked together to build our own race course - one that included team rooms, a spectators’ area, refreshment area and so on! That minimal adult input from my mother set us up for weeks of fun and successful cooperative play.”

To support your children’s unstructured play at home, try having an array of open-ended resources on hand at home.

Cardboard boxes, natural resources such as sticks and pebbles, pieces of fabric that can be turned into a tent or into a superhero cape - these will all promote hours of discussion and creative play, where siblings can cultivate a sense of togetherness, unity and cooperation.

There’s nothing better than seeing your children playing and learning happily together.

Hopefully our tips help nurture some positive & cooperative play experiences for your kids - but if not, don’t worry. No siblings play together beautifully all the time!

The fact you are encouraging them is a fantastic start. And if you (or the kids) need a break from play, you could always check out our list of educational apps that are perfect for a bit of quiet time.


To see for yourself how Garden International School encourages unstructured and cooperative play from an early age, and to get some more great tips from our Early Years specialists, come and visit us at our upcoming EYC Open Day on 26 September 2019. Get #packedforlife at GIS! Full Application fee waived for Open Day Attendance (t&c’s apply).

Upcoming GIS Open Day September 2019

Can’t make it to our Open Days? Our doors are open (almost) every day. Book your personal tour online at or get in touch with our friendly admissions team on or call (603) 6209 6888.



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