Get your baby and big kid off to a happy start with this age-by-age guide to games they can enjoy together.

Big Sibling Plays Peekaboo With Baby
Credit: Stephanie Rausser

"You're going to have a baby brother to play with!” Presenting a soon-to-arrive sibling as a live-in playmate is a great strategy—until your helpless infant arrives and your firstborn realizes the newest member of the household can’t even hold up his head. However, there are lots of ways to help a big brother or sister bond with a baby, and these 10 age-by-age activities are the perfect starting point. Feel free to tweak them to suit your kids’ ages and interests.

0 to 3 Months

A newborn has very limited skills, but he’s still ready to listen and learn.

  • Watch This! Toddlers and preschoolers love the idea of playing teacher, so give your child a lesson plan that’s sure to succeed: Have her hold a rattle or a soft toy in front of your infant so he can track it with his eyes. At first, he’ll be able to see it best if it’s about 6 inches away, says Rahil D. Briggs, Psy.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York. Later, when your infant reaches for the object, say something like, “Wow! Look what you taught him to do!”
  • Ham It Up. Once a baby begins to develop a social smile (usually around 2 months), an older sibling will love being the one who gets the grins. Encourage her to show off her silliest antics, like puffing out her cheeks and “popping” them with her hands or making funny sounds (“Whoops” or “Beep, beep!”). And if she sticks out her tongue, your baby may even imitate her.
  • Tell a Story. A little bookworm can read to a baby from Day 1 (even if she doesn’t actually know how to read yet). “Have your older child flip the pages of a book and tell a story that goes with the pictures,” suggests Dr. Briggs. Explain that even though a newborn can’t talk, it’s important for his brain to hear lots of words. Babies are also attracted to high-contrast visuals, so board books with bold images are a good choice.

3 to 6 Months

Babies start laughing and become more animated during this stage. By the half-year mark, your little one may show excitement when she sees her big sibling—a nice incentive for him to pay attention.

  • Put On a Show. If your older child likes getting your baby to smile, he’ll really love making her laugh. Accomplishing this might be as easy as placing a stuffed animal on your baby’s head or playing This Little Piggy with her toes. Even though she won’t understand knock-knock jokes, she might start laughing simply because her brother does.
  • Create a Diversion. Your baby needs tummy time to develop the strength to lift her head, but she probably doesn’t like the position. She will, though, if her big sib turns it into a game. Have him place a few toys just out of reach and then encourage the baby to creep toward them (“C’mon, Sophia. You can do it. Yay, you reached the dolly!”).
  • Talk Back. When your baby begins to coo and later, babble, help your older child learn the right way to respond. “Explain, ‘If she says, ‘Ooh, aah, aah,’ that means she wants us to say, ‘Ooh, aah, aah’ back to her,” suggests Dr. Briggs. “Say that this is her way of communicating and our way of showing that we hear her.” 

6 to 9 Months

By this age your baby may be able to sit up without support. That makes him seem like a true playmate, even though he’s not as interactive as his big sib might like.

  • Have a Demolition Derby. A toddler who’s spent hours carefully building a block tower might be furious when her baby brother topples it—but not if that’s the point of the game. Say, “Let’s build something, and see if Matthew can knock it down.” Framed that way, your older child may actually be excited to watch her creation get smashed. For safety’s sake, use either foam blocks or ones with rounded corners.
  • Make Some Noise. Give your kids a pile of baby-friendly toy instruments (such as maracas and a xylophone) or pots and wooden spoons, and let them have at it. What child won’t get a kick out of showing a younger sibling how to make a racket? Note: Have your older child start playing softly so that your little one isn’t startled by the sound.

9 to 12 Months

Your baby is becoming increasingly mobile: crawling, pulling up, and cruising. She’s also likely to start mimicking an older sibling’s play. If her big brother is pushing a truck around, chances are she’ll want to do the same.

  • Play Peek-a-Boo. Babies develop a sense of object permanence by this age, meaning they understand that something exists even if they can’t see it, says Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston. Challenge your older child to come up with variations on the theme of making objects disappear and reappear. He can cover a toy with a blanket, hide his face with his hands, or pop in and out from behind the sofa.
  • Take a Walk. Near the end of your baby’s first year, she might be ready to take her first wobbly steps. Put on some music to turn it into a game, and have an older sibling demonstrate how to walk (“See, it’s easy—now you try”). Then have him hold her hand as she puts one foot in front of the other. Before you know it, they’ll be off and running together.

Parents Magazine