“It’s mine!” your toddler exclaims loudly to his little sister who is trying to take his favorite firetruck.
Cue baby sister cries.
Here we go again.
Why can’t they just share their toys and play nicely together? you think to yourself.
What happens next is probably all too familiar to you….
Toddler pushes baby down. Baby cries some more.
Okay so what’s a frustrated and annoyed mama to do?
If your answer is “give the toy to the baby and tell your toddler he needs to share,” then you may want to keep reading…
Your toddler does need to learn to share. I don’t disagree with that. However, we have to remember two things:
- A child under 3 is not developmentally capable of sharing (consistently)
- Teaching a child how to share involves more than saying it’s not nice and forcing the child to give up his toy. Actually, it doesn’t involve those things at all. We have to explicitly teach the art of sharing and giving as well as the prerequisite skills that support it.
It might help to think about it this way…
If someone asked you to share or take a turn wearing your wedding ring, you’d probably feel a little hesitant to give it up! It’s a special possession that you want to hold on to and keep to yourself. Our child’s possessions are no different. To them, that dump truck or race car is extremely special so they don’t want anyone else using it.
And that’s okay.
How to Encourage Sharing and Turn Taking
1. Have a discussion about sharing vs taking turns
In the beginning, kids will have a much easier time taking turns rather than sharing. And it’s important to distinguish the difference between the two so when you use those particular words, they understand what’s going to happen.
So if you tell them “it’s sister’s turn to play with the ball” then they will understand that they will be getting the item back at some point.
Basically, by explaining the difference between sharing (giving part away) and turn taking (giving and then getting back), you’ll be setting yourself up to avoid any communication breakdowns.
2. Read books or watch shows about sharing
Here are some awesome books and TV shows that talk about sharing and make the concept very relatable for kids:
Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
Should I Share My Ice-Cream by Mo Willems
Gossie by Olivier Dunrea
It’s Mine! By Leo Lionni
The Berenstain Bears: Learn to Share by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Daniel Learns to Share by Becky Friedman
Daniel Shares his Tigertastic Car (TV show)
Katerina Shares Her Tutu (TV show)
Sharing at the Library (TV show)
Daniel Shares with Margaret (TV show)
3. Teach that sharing includes more than material possessions
Giving the word “sharing” multiple positive meanings can really help a child start seeing it as a good thing instead of a bad thing. Right now they see it as giving up their favorite toy so it definitely has a negative meaning to them.
To teach the multiple meanings, simply model them when you’re engaged in those activities. So when you and your child get done reading a book together, thank him for sharing his time with you. When you are with him in his Calming Corner, encourage him to share his feelings with you.
It’s all about using and emphasizing the word in its natural context.
4. Put away toys not willing to share
Something that will make a huge difference in your household is having your kids put away the toys they are not willing to share.
This is especially helpful when you have a toddler and a baby because that baby wants to get a hold of everything and most toddlers are not huge fans of that! Your older child can bring those toys back out when the baby is napping or in bed so he doesn’t have to worry about them getting taken away.
5. Have the older child play with his toys in a place that baby can’t reach
Along the same lines as #4, teach your older child to play with his non-shareable toys in a place where the baby can’t get to them.
In our house, this is typically at the dining room table. My son pushes his learning tower over to the table and plays with his toys up there. This could also mean sending your toddler to his room to play with his toys.
Obviously you’re only going to allow this if you trust your kid in his room by himself with the door shut.
Do what works best for you.
6. Talk about things you have shared
Tell your child stories about times when you shared your toys, food, clothes, etc. with someone else. Reveal how it made you feel to share your things so they see how it can actually make you feel good.
Let’s say you and your child are playing with cars. “Hey guess what I just remembered?! When I was little, I used to share my cars with Grandpa! It made me feel so happy to let Grandpa have fun with my cars too!”
7. Use the words “share” and “take turns” frequently throughout your day
When you’re at the dinner table and you’re husband gives you a bite of his dinner, tell him “thanks for sharing your food with me Daddy! I really appreciate that!” Any time you find yourself sharing or taking turns with another adult or with your child, be sure to acknowledge and label it.
Kids will imitate what they see.
8. Set up sharing situations
If you find that these sharing or turn taking opportunities aren’t happening very often naturally, then just set one up.
Tell your child that you are going to be playing a fun game where he gets to be the daddy and you are the baby (choose whatever roles you want). Then guide him through a role play where you play together and then take turns or share your toys.
Often times it’s easier for kids to share and take turns when they’re just “pretending” as opposed to actually being in that moment in real life. This puts a fun spin on it and gives them the opportunity to practice the skill when their defenses aren’t up!
9. Set a visual timer for taking turns
If you have some toys that are meant for ALL of your kids (typically bigger toys like a basketball hoop, pretend roller coaster, play kitchen, etc.) then you may want to set a visual timer for turn taking. Since these toys don’t belong to any one child, they have to learn to take turns with them.
The key here is a VISUAL timer. Not just a regular timer. A visual one is a must because it shows your child exactly how much time is left until they get a turn with the toy.
This eliminates the “when is it my turn!?” battle.
Trust me on this one, a visual timer will be your new best friend.
Another part to this that will make your efforts even more successful, is to teach your child what they can do while they wait for their turn.
Of course, I immediately turn to the amazing Daniel Tiger song “when you wait, you can play, sing, or imagine anything.” Give them ideas on what they can play, sing, or imagine and guide them through it. This needs to be done frequently for it to click.
Once they understand what they can do while they wait, bust out the song whenever the situation arises!
10. Give sharing positive attention
This one doesn’t really need an explanation but just be sure to pick out those times when your child DOES share his toys or give his sibling/friend a turn with his toy and let him know how wonderful it was!
Encouragement goes a long way.
11. Avoid attacking character/labeling them
Remember that this is developmental. We aren’t born with the skills to share, we are taught. Refrain from giving your child a negative label like selfish or rude when they don’t share their favorite toy.
Kids believe they are what they’re told they are. Let that sink in. If a child is repeatedly told they are rude, then they will think that is a permanent characteristic.
We certainly don’t mean it that way or for it to have that effect on them, but it does.
They are not purposely being selfish or rude. They are just being toddlers!
12. Give them the words to handle it
Your kids won’t be able to respond differently unless they actually know of an alternative/better way to do it.
Try teaching them a simple phrase such as “this is mine and I’m not ready to share it right now. You can play with this one.”
The last sentence of that phrase has been really powerful in our household. We tell our son that while he doesn’t have to share the toy he’s currently playing with, he should give his sister a different toy that she CAN play with. Basically teaching him how he can help redirect her attention away from his toy. He loves doing this!
You can also go a step further by having him express his feelings about it by saying something like “it makes me feel _____ when you try to take my toy”.
The better he gets at labeling and sharing his emotions, the better those confrontations will go!
13. Respect your child’s privacy and boundaries
If you want your child to respect YOUR privacy and YOUR boundaries, then you have to respect his. If he wants to play by himself without little sister around, then let him have that time. If he doesn’t want to share certain toys, respect that boundary.
Modeling is the greatest teaching tool so be sure you are consistently modeling the behaviors and skills you want to see in your child.
14. Spend quality one-on-one time together
This one may seem unrelated but it actually may be very much related! A child’s feelings about sharing might in fact be tied to how they feel about sharing adult attention with their sibling.
If one child has been feeling left out or hasn’t gotten as much attention from Mom or Dad lately, then that feeling may manifest itself in the way they play and act toward little brother or sister.
Spending at least 10 minutes of quality one-on-one time everyday with your kids can greatly impact the way they play with each other.
They no longer feel that competition or rivalry if they are each getting their attention buckets filled!
15. Help develop empathy
To encourage a genuine desire to share, one must first develop empathy. This doesn’t happen overnight, but by increasing awareness and explicitly teaching the skill, your child will start laying down the foundation for which genuine sharing can build upon.
Here are 2 easy ways to help your child develop empathy:
- Read books together
- Label and discuss other people’s emotions
- Have a discussion about sharing vs. taking turns
- Read books or watch shows about sharing
- Teach that sharing includes more than material possessions
- Put away toys not willing to share
- Have the older child play with his toys in a safe place
- Talk about things you have shared
- Use the words “share” and “take turns” frequently
- Set up sharing situations
- Set a visual timer for taking turns
- Give sharing positive attention
- Avoid attacking their character/labeling them
- Give them the words to handle it
- Respect your child’s privacy and boundaries
- Spend quality one-on-one time together
- Help develop empathy
Keeping in mind that sharing is a learned skill, not an inborn trait, will help keep your expectations realistic.
The skill of sharing is a constant work-in-progress, so be patient and focus on TRAINING.