Here’s a hint: a cardboard box is magical

When I was pregnant with my second child, I honestly thought I was giving my son the best. gift. ever. It wasn’t until I watched him transform into the gorgon over a Glow Worm that he’d given up years earlier that I realized it might be a few decades before they truly start to appreciate each other. So in the meantime, I’ve found a close substitute for true love and affection: laughter and mischief. Keep reading for my favorite games to play with siblings to foster a united, (mostly) happy front that I’m banking on to pay out in close-knit kids. One day. Maybe.

The Game: Mean Mommy

How to Play: This is a little like Mother May I, but you’re playing the role of Mean Mommy, who says “no” in her grumpiest voice and meanest face to everything the kids ask for. You won’t be able to go two rounds without your kids dissolving into laughter and strategizing together for something to ask that you’ll actually say yes to. The more absurd the things you say no to—like them brushing their teeth or picking up toys from the floor—the better.

Why You’ll Love It: This game doesn’t score you any time off the clock, but it does let you sit still for a few minutes while they’re cracking up with one another. And let’s be honest. Sometimes it feels really good to make a grumpy face and say no to things.

The Game: Rescue

How to Play: In each round, one or more kids play the role of rescuer, and one must be rescued. The fun here is that the rescuer gets to tell the one to be rescued just what kind of a pickle he or she’s in. When my son was in his shark stage, I found my 3-year-old (the victim) in an empty bathtub, covered in paper plates. My son’s scenario? He had to rescue the younger one from a shark-feeding frenzy. The paper plates were the sharks. The rescue was better than any scene from Sharknado.

Why You’ll Love It: This one gets a little risky since the basis of the game is that one child has to tell another one what to do—an obvious red flag. But as long as they take turns, it works out beautifully. The other risk is that the rescue scenarios can get a little treacherous. I played this with my own brother as a child and my mom found me lying in a ditch, pretending to be being attacked by buzzards. Just keep an eye on the game, is all I’m saying.

The Game: Dizzy Simon Says

How to Play: This game to play with siblings will definitely buy you some peace and quiet, but it’s so funny that you may want to stick around to watch. Nothing complicated here. It’s just Simon Says, but the kids who aren’t the leader have to close their eyes and spin around 20 times before trying to follow the leader.

Why You’ll Love It: It will remind you of that friend in college who ended up coming home with one shoe missing.

photo scavenger hunt is a fun game to play with siblings

The Game: Photo Scavenger Hunt

How to Play: If you’re willing to hand over a phone, iPad, or digital camera, this game will pay out in literally hours of time to get things done on your own, while the kids play. You have to set it up, but all you do is number 1-10 on 10 pieces of paper, and place them around the yard or house. Take an up-close picture of each location, then have them flip through the photos to find each clue. When they’ve collected all 10 clues, reward them with a prize. Marshmallows work well at my house.

Why You’ll Love It: When you get good at this game you start to place each clue in the furthest opposite corners of your property to increase the amount of ground they have to cover to pick each clue up. Wear. Them. Out. But head’s up—younger ones can get left behind on this, so be sure to give them the special job of holding the phone so the older ones have to wait on them before moving on to the next clue.

The Game: On Top of Spaghetti

How to Play: Perfect for a rainy day, this classic song can save your afternoon. Teach them to sing “On Top of Spaghetti” and role-play being the meatball. For real. They love rolling with a sneeze right out the door, landing in the bushes, then turning to mush.

Why You’ll Love It: Piles of pillows make epic piles of spaghetti. They can do it together, and they burn off some energy, to boot.

The Game: Restaurant

How to Play: Isn’t it weird that they like taking orders from “strangers,” but if you were to ask them to get you a cup of water on a random Tuesday they’d all of a sudden have broken legs? But I digress. With this one, your first step is to get them to each make a menu for their restaurant. They can cut pictures out of magazines, or draw them onto construction paper. Let them make play money. Then, they get to take turns being the server while the other is the customer.

Why You’ll Love It: Lay the law down early that the only food product they’ll be working with are bowls of water, and the worst that can happen is you end up mopping the floor.

The Game: Shadow Tracing

How to Play: Outside, have one child strike a funny pose while the other traces their shadow.

Why You’ll Love It: Anytime one child is still and quiet, the other is usually pretty happy, too. You’re welcome.

Two girls enjoying games to play with siblings outside.

The Game: The Great Outdoors

How to Play: Set up a tent, then tell them that they’re going camping. Seriously. They get really into it. If yours need some prompting, suggest they gather sticks and rocks to build a fire pit, give them peanut butter and birdseed and string and have them decorate pine cones to tie into the trees nearby. Let them paint the trunks of the trees around the campsite with non-toxic paint.

Why You’ll Love It: They’ll get messy, yes, but this is the kind of game to play with siblings that knows no end. I’ve seen mine turn a “camping” day into role-playing, fort building, and treasure hunting.

The Game: Favorite Movie Mash-Up

How to Play: Who needs to pick just one movie to act out? In this game to play with siblings, each child picks a favorite character from a movie and they have to come up with a plot for a new movie, using the characters each has picked.

Why You’ll Love It: It gets really weird. Funny-weird, not creepy weird, but still. The last time mine played this we had Pocahontas battling Elsa over who had the best “nature powers.” Honestly, some of the scenes they’ve come up with have beaten the last couple of series I’ve tried on Netflix.

The Game: Ye Old Cardboard Box

How to Play: Give them a box. Walk away.

Why You’ll Love It: Nothing holds more potential than a cardboard box. Go crazy and throw some aluminum foil and markers on the ground before you leave, if you want. It’s not like we’ll think your kids are high-maintenance or anything but . . .

I hope you find a few minutes of peace while your children play these games without too many battles.


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