Marc Brown, author and illustrator of the renowned Arthur series, once said, “Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.” We think our young ones with special communication needs would agree! A child’s big brother or sister plays a unique role in their life, acting every day as a role model, play partner, protector, rival, confidant, and so much more. When it comes to language, there are many ways for children to help their younger sibling’s development. Studies have also shown that older siblings can benefit from this experience. It can strengthen the social skills, reduce feelings of competitiveness for parents’ attention, and ultimately strengthen the sibling relationship.
Below are a few activity ideas for involving a big brother or sister in their younger siblings’ communication development. To keep the experience fun and beneficial for both youngsters, there are some key things to keep in mind. First, let Big Brother/Sister know that you need their help, because Little Brother/Sister has so much to learn from them! Make sure that the skills being practiced are easy enough for Little Brother/Sister that no one gets frustrated. Everyone should get plenty of praise after the activity for their hard work. Finally, asking Big Brother/Sister “How did they do?” after the activity can provide you with good insight while also acknowledging their responsibility.
- Board games are excellent for teaching children to take turns, a skill that is needed for both play and conversation. The best games are those with simple rules and short turns. Hi Ho Cherry-O, Diggity Dog, and Trouble are some of our favorites!
- Simon Says. Following directions is a skill that many young children with language delays struggle with. For this activity, it is best to give Big Brother/Sister ideas for simple one-step directions for Little Brother/Sister to follow. For example: clap your hands, turn in a circle, touch your nose, jump, hide your eyes.
- I Spy. One of the best things about this game is that it can fit into even the busiest schedule. Depending on the skill that needs to be practiced, you can ask Big Brother/Sister to name objects by their size, color, shape, what you do with it—the big blue sky is the limit!
- Shared book reading. Children can take turns answering questions about the story, picking out the letters of their name on the page, clapping out syllables together, finding pairs of rhyming words, or Big Brother/Sister can practice reading aloud. For example, if Little Brother/Sister is learning the names of new objects, Big Brother/Sister can point to an object on a page and ask, “What is it?”
- Scavenger hunt. Have Big Brother/Sister choose 10 objects around the house, take a picture together of each one, and make the pictures into a list of objects for Little Brother/Sister to find. If they need help, tell Big Brother/Sister to give clues such as what room the object is in or what we do with it.
Siblings are learning and growing together with every passing moment. We hope that these activities help make some of that time they share together more purposeful and stress-free. But, above all else, the most important thing is to use whatever strategies and ideas fit your family.
American Speech-Language Hearing Association. (n.d.). Person- and Family-Centered Care. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from ASHA
Barr, J., McLeod, S., & Daniel, G. (2008). Siblings of Children With Speech Impairment: Cavalry on the Hill. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 39(1), 21. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2008/003)