Witnessing your children argue over a toy—which hasn’t been played with by either child in months—it becomes clear why seasoned parents of siblings like to joke that when it comes to having multiple children you have to buy two of everything.
Sharing is challenging for all children—and siblings are no exception. This week, we offer tips for helping siblings learn to take turns and share.
You’ll be relieved to know that buying two (or more!) of every toy isn’t the most practical solution. Sharing is a skill that needs to be taught, especially during toddlerhood. Toddlers are just beginning to learn about ownership and can be possessive about their things. They think everything belongs to them, so they may be possessive about their sibling’s things, too. Fortunately, with time, children’s patience grows and they learn to sort “mine” and “yours” and to take turns. However, there are going to be a few years where struggles over toys is going to be par for the course.
The way you approach teaching how to share will be different with each child. It’s good to look at the situation from each of child’s perspective.
Your Older Sibling’s Feelings
Think back to when your first child was a toddler: All the toys in the home were theirs; they didn’t have to share or wait their turn; they also had you all to themselves. They had it made, until they had a friend over to play and suddenly they were confronted with the concept of sharing. They had to learn to take turns.
It’s a big shift for children when a sibling enters the picture. Suddenly, this taking-turns concept seems to be expected for nearly everything. It can be hard for your older child to suddenly have to share you, space, and their belongings. When it comes to sharing toys, start the conversation early—around the time that baby can start grasping or grabbing for toys.
- Explain that babies learn about their world through exploring and touching things.
- “We can help your sister learn to take turns by letting her touch your teddy bear for a few minutes.”
- “Sometimes babies might try to put a toy in their mouths. It’s another way they learn and it can also help when their mouth hurts from growing new teeth.”
- Have a container with baby-friendly toys nearby. Ask your older child to pick a toy from the bin for little sister or brother to play with.
As your youngest grows from a baby through toddlerhood, they will become more assertive when it comes to sharing. As parents, it can be easier to give in to the toddler’s demands by letting them have the toy because we know our older children are less likely to go into meltdown mode. But that isn’t always fair to them. It’s important to respect your older child’s feelings and autonomy. In addition, your toddler eventually learns to take turns.
- If your older child is playing with a toy that your toddler wants, ask your toddler to be patient and wait their turn.
- Explain to your older child that “toddlers are still learning the rules of sharing and it’s hard for them to be patient.” “It’s our job to teach them how sharing works.”
- “Your brother is still little and has very big feelings. Yes, he wants your toy but he needs to wait his turn. Maybe you could pick another toy he can play with.”
- Set an age-appropriate time limit: “Since you both want the toy, how about I set the timer and you play with it for 10 more minutes, and then it will be your sister’s turn.” Then use words to tell your toddler the plan.
Your Younger Child’s Feelings
Why is it that toys look so much more fun when big brother or sister is playing with them? If you have siblings, you’ve seen this scenario many times. Toddlers aren’t usually shy when it comes to asking for what they want. They may grab a toy out of your older child’s hands or push them away from a toy they want.
- Act quickly if you see that grabbing is about to happen.
- Gently hold your child’s hand and patiently remind them to say “please” and wait their turn.
- If they continue to keep taking the toy or get overly upset, remove your child from the toy and ask them to have some quiet time to settle down. “Shawn, you are still grabbing the ball. Lucas can have another turn for 5 minutes while you have some quiet time to calm down.”
- Use distraction and offer a choice for something he can play with while he waits.
Rules for Both Children
There may be times when your children fight over a toy, and it’s unclear who had the toy first or how the problem started. The following suggestions can be helpful in this situation:
- Avoid giving in to the youngest child when they protest or get upset.
- Don’t assume your oldest did something to upset their younger sibling.
- Decide who can play with the toy first and set a time limit. Use a timer.
- Notice when they are sharing or taking turns. Lay on the praise, “You are playing so well together taking turns. Doesn’t that feel great?”
- If they continue to squabble over the toy, even after you have set them up to take turns, give the toy 5 minutes to “rest.” Then the 5 minutes can start again,
One of the most powerful tools you have is Praise. Sing it loud and often! Over time, this can encourage your child to choose sharing over fighting—making playtime more enjoyable for the whole family.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at email@example.com
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