Handling Sibling Tagalong Conflicts

If you’re a parent with two kids, or if you have neighbours with two kids, you’ve most likely come across the issue of siblings tag along.

In short, it’s when the youngest child tags along to play with the older group. Most of the time, there might not be any issues. But it can also be the source of numerous conflicts and tantrums.

It’s nice to give kids “separate” play times with just their friends. On the other hand, it’s also important to let children play with different age groups and learn how to be inclusive (yet another Parent Paradox…).

Exclusion can be very hard to cope with at that young age. When kids aren’t used to “sharing friends” or playing with younger kids, they can be very nasty to each other.

In this article, we’ve put together a few thoughts on how to make sure your playful afternoons don’t turn into civil wars.

How to handle sibling tagalong at home

Balancing the amount of time siblings spend together versus separate is a very complex topic, which we won’t get into here.

Instead, we’re just looking at solutions for when the tagalong is prone to conflicts. Even then, there is no universal solution as no two kids are the same!

1 – Know your kid’s limits

To prevent conflicts, avoid the activities you think might lead to tears. You can either avoid them entirely or alternate the activities for “the older kids” with activities that everyone can play. When you sense the kids are getting tired, switch to more relaxing activities.

As always, this is often easier said than done. If your kids get along well when they’re just the two of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will when other kids are around. The dynamic changes entirely.

It also means you (or an adult) need to supervise the game. This is fine for birthday parties but not as practical for every day “run around” games.

This solution also presupposes the kids can hold a “truce” for the duration of the game. If a conflict is likely to arise as soon as the game starts, you may want to consider another option.

2 – Set the rules beforehand

Changing the dynamics of a playing relationship can be difficult, especially if the game has already started.

Instead, if the activities are planned ahead of time, decide which one your youngest child will do and which ones are for the “older kids”.

For example, if you’re having a birthday party, including the youngest kid in the main activity. Then, when it all over, give the older kids a bit of alone time to play.

Don’t make this a “separation”. Perhaps, use the opportunity for a one-on-one activity with your youngest child. It’s likely that they will be tired at this point so you can keep it simple.

3 – Give your kid an “organiser” role

If one of your siblings has friends over, why not ask the other to get involved in the planning? For example, ask him or her to help make dinner with you. Make it something special.

In most cases, it’s the younger sibling who tags along with the older kids. However, the reverse is also possible. This solution will also work with that configuration.

4 – Find another activity for your younger child

Find something else for your younger child to do while your other child spends time with his or her friends.

This should be done in a way that doesn’t make your younger child feel he or she is being excluded. It should be a win-win situation for everyone.

5 – Invite another kid of the same age

If the space permits, when one of your of kid is having friends over, consider inviting a friend for your other child as well.

Depending on the dynamics and the age difference, they can then participate in group activities or play their own separate games.

6 – Organise your play dates

If planning is your thing, organise your play dates so that both siblings can have their own play dates and days where they spend time with their brother or sister.

How to handle guest tagalongs at parties

Here is the scenario: You’re planning a kid’s birthday and the day before the party another parent asks you if their youngest can also come…

Now you need to add a seat, make sure there is enough food and double check if he or she can do the activities as well. Additional stress!

Another common situation is when your child has a friend who lives near and every time he or she is invited, they bring along their younger sibling.

This can also be tricky to deal with. Especially is there are no other kids in the area.

Finally, the other type of uninvited guest may is the tagalong parent!  This is where you have expected parents to drop off their kids and come back to pick them up but they end up staying for the party.

1 – Talk to the other parents

Don’t be afraid to talk to the other parents. Maybe for them, it’s a given but it wasn’t for you.

Generally, if the age range is close by, it shouldn’t be an issue. But if it really doesn’t fit in with your planning say so.

For example, if you’re planning a sleepover, and you only have 3 beds, adding an extra guest just isn’t possible.

2 – Talk to the entertainer or activity centre

If you’re planning a party and you’ve booked an entertainer or an activity centre, don’t be afraid to call them and tell them you’re adding an additional, younger guest. Usually, it’s fine and it gives them time to plan accordingly.

3 – Plan on getting a few extra accessories

Its always a good idea to get a few extra accessories and party bags in case of unexpected extras.  This avoids the embarrassment of someone having to miss out.

4 – Always cater for a few more than expected

Prepare a little extra food than you think you will need.  And for those tagalong parents, a bottle of wine or two may come in very handy!

Closing thoughts

We hope these ideas will help you sort through your tagalong conflicts. Again, there is no universal solution. Each child is different which needs to be taken into account.