Have you every watched Finding Nemo? Sometimes I feel like the gulls have raided my living room. For those of you that haven’t seen the film, toward the end there’s a group of seagulls all clamoring for the same fish, saying “Mine” “Mine” “Mine” “Mine”, non-stop. A fairly accurate description of how children can sound when fighting over toys.
Sharing can’t be forced. Making your child share a toy leads to resentment, and confuses them regarding the meaning of possession. You teach them that if a toy isn’t theirs, they can’t have it unless the person who owns it agrees. But then, when they own the toy, someone else can use it without them agreeing? That doesn’t make sense to your child, so ownership ceases to have a meaning. Instead of forcing your child to share, teach them to share by creating a positive atmosphere that continually exposes them to sharing and encourages them to share. Help your child foster positive emotions, like empathy, that will help them learn how to share.
Here a few strategies you can use to teach your child to share:
1. Make sure your child is around other kids regularly. If you have a sibling close in age, it will be challenging for you as a parent, but a great opportunity for both to learn how to share, as well as other social skills.
2. Make sure you have enough toys around that even when your child shares, they have something fun to play with too. Otherwise, your child could start to resent the presence of other children, which could lead to other bad habits. Later on, they can learn that it’s OK not to have something in their hands for a while, but its best to teach them that AFTER they’ve learned to feel secure while sharing.
3. Don’t just keep telling your child to “share”. SHOW them ways to share. For example, after your child has been playing with a toy for a while, ask them to give their sibling or friend a turn, and tell them that they’ll have another turn again after the other child. Then follow up after a few minutes to make sure your child gets their second turn, and praise them for waiting patiently. When your child seems resistant or starts fussing when their turn with a toy is over, distract them by pointing to other toys they can use while waiting. You might even put another toy in their hand and start playing with them.
4. When someone else (including yourself) shares something in front of your toddler, point it out to your child. Later, when you’re asking them to share something, you can remind them of when they saw other people sharing and tell them it’s their turn to share now.
5. When your kids are taking turns with toys, have a set duration that each turn lasts. It’s easier for a child to learn how to share if they know they can count on getting another turn after a set amount of time.
6. Make sure there are some toys that truly BELONG to your child. Children can’t truly learn how to share until they understand possession. You can’t share something that isn’t yours, so the first premise for sharing something is to own it. Owning it comes first. Don’t force your child to share their toy, at least initially, or there will be no difference between toys that belong to the whole family and toys that belong to THEM. Invite them to share their toys, but if they say “no”, respect their no. Then, gradually, keep encouraging them to share, giving them different reasons to do so (E.g. “You would really make your brother smile if you shared x with him”). If your child is refusing to share a toy and it is starting to cause an issue with the other child, you can always tell your child that they don’t have to share their toy, but if they aren’t willing to share it, they may not play with it now – they have to put it away and can use it later. If you know this is going to occur in advance, you can have your child put away the prized possessions that probably won’t be shared before the friend comes over to avoid an issue.
7. As your child starts to have a better understanding of time, allow them to start determining with their siblings how and when they share toys (they could trade on and off, decide certain days when each one will be “owner” of certain toys, etc.). This gives them opportunities to start developing problem solving skills as well.
8. Praise your children when they are sharing nicely. You could make them a special snack and tell them it’s to celebrate how well they are sharing. The more positive motivation they receive, the more likely they are to continue sharing.
9. Focus on group play, and make sure your child has toys and games that can be used together with other kids. This makes sharing attractive – your child will have more fun with some of their possessions by sharing than by keeping them to themselves.
10. Verbally describe what other people might be experiencing to help your child learn how to connect into the feelings of others. If your child understands that another child might be sad because they want a turn with the toy, or that someone might want to share a glass of juice because they’re also thirsty, they are more likely to want to share with others.