“IT’S MINE!” If you have a toddler or preschooler, you’ve probably heard these words. It was probably accompanied by embarrassing wailing and a full body meltdown in public. I know you want to teach your children to share.
Here’s the thing: Sharing isn’t really neurologically appropriate until at least age 3.5 to 4 years old. Brain development can’t be fast-forwarded – children do not develop enough empathy until they are preschool-age to really understand how to share.
Empathy is critical. In order to share, a person needs to really be able to think about another person’s feelings. The hard reality for many parent is that it is normal for children to be self-absorbed until even 7 or 8 years old when they start to move beyond “what’s in it for me?” mentality.
All that said, there are a number of times when a child does need to share an item. Maybe at a playdate, two children want the same toy. Or when you’re at a public playspace and your toddler is about to take down a peer over a bright red fire truck.
Here’s ten tips on how you can teach your children to share.
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1. Watch Shows that Teach Your Child how to Share
Daniel Tiger is the expert in how to teach your children to share. He has three episodes about sharing. The fact that there are three episodes proves this is such a common toddler and preschooler struggle.
The first episode to address sharing is about turn taking and Daniel shares his Tigertastic car. O the Owl doesn’t have a car to play with at the park. Daniel decides to take turns. The jingle is “You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back.” This catchy tune helps children understand that their toy will be returned to them.
The second episode is “Sharing With You is Fun for Me, too.” Daniel Tiger and O the Owl reach for the same book at the library and Dad Tiger shows them how they can use the book at the same time. This teaches how its possible to increase the fun of playing with a toy by playing with another child.
The third episode is Daniel Learns to Ask First. The jingle is “Before You Take Something Away, Stop and Ask if it’s okay.” Daniel takes a spoon from his sister Margaret to use with his toy drum. Dad teaches him he need to learn to ask first.
Watch theses shows with your children, and build their concept knowledge around sharing. Then refer to them during times when your children are having a hard time sharing.
You can get a free trial of Amazon Video and watch all these Daniel Tiger episodes and tons more programming for free!
2. Teach Taking Turns during Routines
You can teach your children to share by practicing taking turns. Every day routines with your children provide great opportunities. When our children are toddlers, my husband and I start taking turns with hygiene skills like tooth brushing and hair washing. For example, I hand the toothbrush to my child and say “it’s your turn.” Then I say, “Okay it’s my turn” and hold my hand out. I wait for my toddler to hand me the brush. The next time, I start with “my turn” while brushing and then hand off with “your turn.”
- Related: A Tooth Brushing Routine that Works
Same with getting your child’s socks on. I’ll hand my child his socks and say, “You take a turn” and then I’ll say, “Okay, I’ll take a turn” and I’ll help my child put his socks on.
3. Model Sharing with your Children
You can model sharing with your child when you play together. I play “My Turn, Your Turn” with toys.
When I play trucks with my son, I’ll grab the fire truck and say, “it’s my turn with the fire truck.” I enthusiastically play for a minute and then offer it to him and say, “Andrew it’s your turn.” He might or might not offer me the garbage truck he was playing with. That’s not the goal – it’s my opportunity to teach by modeling.
Since playing with trucks is really similar to the Daniel Tiger episode “You Can Take a Turn,” it really engages both my children. They like to act out the scenes like one of their favorite characters.
4. Teach Turn Taking to Preschoolers with Board Games
Playing simple board games is a simple way I teach turn taking. I love Snail’s Pace Race because it can be played in a non-competitive way and it is super simple for toddlers and preschoolers. Thus the focus is really on turn-taking.
We put out all 6 snails out on the game board and they all belong to both of us. My child and I take turns rolling the dice and moving the snails. We say, “Your turn” and “My turn.” There is no competition, just taking turns rolling and helping all the snails cross the finish line.
- Related: Best Board Games for Preschoolers
5. Praise Turn-taking
Positive reinforcement is effective for shaping behavior. Whenever we notice our child giving a sibling a turn or giving a snack, we praise it.
We try to use descriptive praise like, “You shared your snack with your sister when she wanted some. You are kind. Thank you.”
6. Use a Timer
Timers are so helpful when you teach your children to share. When two children have an interest in a toy, you can use the timer to give a boundary. We love to use these Teacher Created Resources sand timers because the children can have control over turning them. They also demonstrate how much time is left in a visual way and it’s easy to increase the quantity of time but switching the color of timer. However, setting the timer on a smartphone or microwave works well too.
Setting a timer makes the wait more tangible and finite to children. It also show children that their needs and desires matter too.
7. Make certain items off limits
Certain items are off-limits for sharing. I don’t share my beloved possessions. If an adult said to me, “Hey can I wear your wedding ring,” I’d say, “No way!”
In our family, our children’s Angel Dear Pair and a Spare loveys do not have to be shared. Our children both have had these security blankets since birth and it continues to comfort both of them. While both children have a set of three loveys, there is no expectation that they will be shared.
If your child has some beloved possessions, it can be made off-limits to other children. It is okay to set boundaries that protect favorite items and it is appropriate for parents to intervene.
8. Talk to your friends about it
When you have a playdate, ask your friend how she handles sharing. If her child is playing with a toy, and your child takes it, how would she like you to respond?
It helps to be consistent but if your friends have difference expectations, proactively communicate those rules to your children.
9. Allow your children to solve their own conflicts
When your children fight over a communal toy, let them figure it out. That’s right – don’t intervene! As long as no one is getting hurt, let hem have the conflict.
Think to yourself, “I’m going to parent like the 1980s and just watch how this shakes out.” Giving your children opportunities to solve their own conflicts builds resiliency and grit.
Watch and you might be surprised: 9 times out of 10, my children figure out how to handle their conflict on their own. Usually one of my children will see how sad the other child is and decide to act with empathy.
10. Use a visual reminder with your children
Print out the visual How To Share printable and review it with your child. Laminate it, print it on card stock, or get a clipboard and hang it in your main play area.
This will empower your child to figure out how to share independently.
Recapping how to Teach your Children to Share
- Sharing is not really developmentally appropriate until age 4.
- It’s normal for children to struggle until 7-8 with sharing.
- Model sharing and turn-taking and praise it.
- You can practice turn-taking during daily routines. while playing with your child, or with board games.
- You can set boundaries with sharing by having an off-limits toy or using a timer.
- You can use a printable How to Share visual reminder.
You Can Teach Your Child to Share
Grab the free How to Share printable and review it with your kids. Celebrate when your children are independently making attempts to solve their conflicts or to share with another person. And mostly remind yourself that your kids are typical and this phase will pass.