Helping kids learn about sharing is no easy feat. Sharing with grace is a long process, and might seem like a lofty, even impossible goal.
“I feel like I need two of everything,” you lament to a friend as your kids argue in the living room. “It wouldn’t matter. Even if I had two of everything, they would still find something to fight over,” your friend replies. Sighing, you sip your coffee, close your eyes, and try to ignore the noise. What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?
Rather than thinking of this list as a cumbersome list of expectations, see it as a starting point. An opportunity to look at the concept of sharing from a different perspective. Here are ten new ways to think about sharing:
Start by setting the expectation that no one is forced to share. Forcing kids to share often leads to resentment and bitterness. Instead, encourage kindness and empathy by modeling the behavior you want to see. Use respect and patience as you guide your kids through the ups and downs of sharing.
Kids need to learn how to ask to use something, how to respectfully join a game, how to politely refuse to share, how to ask for more time with a toy, etc. Slow down the conversation and give your kids time to learn and practice these phrases before expecting them to do them well.
When kids claim something is “mine!” they may actually be trying to say “I’m using this right now” or “I’d like to use it soon” or “I’m worried you’re going to break it.” Rather than getting into a power struggle over the true owner, help your child use different language to express their feelings and find a solution.
Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they build their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline, or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore.
Allow each child to have a few toys, games, or objects that they do not have to share or that they can choose to share with certain people, at their discretion. Make sure each child has a safe place to store these objects so other children do not disturb them or play with them without permission.
From the outside, trading may look like a shady business deal, but it is also a savvy social skill that kids can use to navigate play dates and friendships. Offering a different toy, packaging a few toys (and three stickers), or allowing their sibling to play with a normally off-limits toy may be a great way to play peacefully together.
Rather than setting a random “time’s up” rule, create a common household language to give kids the option of using a toy for an extended amount of time. If someone asks for the toy, the child can say “I’m having a long turn.” Then, they can explain when the long turn will be up – the next morning, after lunch, etc.
Birthday gifts or other presents get special priority over the everyday toys and games. While some kids may willingly share their new toys, other kids may be more protective. Rather than forcing them to share right away, give them the opportunity enjoy the excitement of having something new.
There will be times when a sibling says “no” to a request to join a game, or when someone else is having a long turn with a toy. Let your child know that it’s okay to be upset. Empathize with these feelings. Explore ways to manage disappointment or sadness. Talk about what they can do while they wait for a turn.
Sometimes, the situation is too intense or complicated for kids to come to a peaceful conclusion. Let your kids know that they can come to you when they are stuck. Your role is to listen and facilitate conversation between the siblings, rather than pick a side or create a solution.
This list may look overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. You don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your family’s sharing rules overnight. Look through the list and pick one or two that you would like to focus on first. Or, sit down with your kids and get their feedback. The goal is not to have a rigid set of “rules” but a way to change the atmosphere around sharing in your home. To introduce respectful communication, problem-solving, and empathy into the mix. And … to avoid buying two (or three, or four!) of everything.
Maybe you’re thinking "Well, it’s hopeless. My kids are too old to learn these skills.” Or “I wish they were fighting over toys. We’ve moved on to bigger – and more difficult things to share – like iPads and game systems.” You’re right, the older your kids get, the more complex sibling rivalry can become. But older kids are able to engage in discussions, think critically through challenging situations and be a part of the solution. So, take the rules above and adapt them to fit your children’s age or developmental stage. Open up the conversation and see what insight they can bring to the table. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
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