It can be embarrassing (and sometimes pretty infuriating) as a parent when your kids grab toys from others, or have a meltdown when they’re asked to share something they’re playing with. But let’s take a step back and remember that sharing is actually a complicated concept that takes kids years to fully grasp.
Young kids get attached to objects, just as they do with people, and their natural instinct is to keep things that they like close to them. Not until three, four, or five years old will they gradually start to “get” that sharing actually helps them play and get along better with others.
Kids can definitely use your guidance when it comes to learning to share—but forcing them to share things they’re not ready to share will usually just backfire. We have some expert-backed tips and ideas for how to get kids to (eventually) become natural sharers—and help avoid those sharing-related meltdowns.
Set aside special items
If a child wants to guard a special toy that they’re very attached to and NOT share it with a sibling/friend, allow them to have this exception. Help them figure out the best place to keep the precious item safe.
Knowing that their favorite stuffed animal is out of harm’s way will help them feel more secure with sharing all of the other toys in the room—and will give them the chance to fully engage in play!
Help kids wait for their turn
Let one child take a nice long turn with a toy or activity, while you play with the other one and help them wait for their turn.
Explain to both kids that they’re practicing taking turns, and narrate each part of the process. Then praise them both when they do switch successfully!
Set a timer to facilitate turn-taking
Discuss how much time each kid will have for their turn, and what should happen when the time is up. You can even let them press the “start” button to feel more in charge.
When the timer goes off, the child will be reminded that it’s time to switch—giving them the chance to hand over the toy without you having to do as much nagging.
This method especially works well with kids who are into the idea of fairness.
Validate feelings, even if they did something “wrong”
If a child gets upset over struggles to share, don’t shut down their big feelings—whatever happened is a big deal to them, and sharing isn’t an easy skill to learn.
Instead, calmly narrate what happened, and let them know you totally understand that they’re mad or frustrated.
Tell them that sharing will get easier the more everyone practices, and that they can always try again next time.
Ask kids for help finding a solution
If kids already understand the concept of sharing but the toy-grabbing or turn-taking is still creating daily fights in your house, sit kids down and say that you need their help figuring out how we can all make sharing more fun and fair.
For example, maybe there should be a code word for when someone wants a turn, or maybe each kid should have a special box for toys that are NOT ready to be shared yet.
Listen to all of their ideas and guide them toward one that seems reasonable and that they agree on. Since they took the lead, they may be more likely to follow their own rule!
Give them a special job
Play a game where your young kiddo has to hand out something to everyone in the room—for example, giving out crackers at snack time, or making sure each family member has a crayon to color with.
Your child will not only be practicing the act of sharing, but will feel proud of their role in helping others share. You’ll also get a break from being the referee/teacher!
Practice taking turns during everyday activities
Have all family members, including adults, take turns picking what song to listen to or take turns reading pages of a book. Make a point of saying it out loud when it’s time to switch turns.
Even when you return a book to the library or leave a restaurant, explain that you need to give other people a turn.
Model sharing with your own friends and relatives
Offer to lend out books, tools, or sports equipment to people you know, and explain to your kiddo why you’re sharing. This helps them understand that sharing is not just something kids have to do.
You can even set up a toy/puzzle/game/book exchange in your neighborhood or with friends so your kids can see that other families enjoy sharing too.
Involve kids in giving back to the community
Next time you’re asked to be generous, rather than seeing it as another adult task to do, make it a family project.
Have kids help you drop off canned goods at a food pantry—in fact, let them help pick out the food items at the store. Involve kids in finding clothes, toys, or books that they’ve outgrown to donate to local shelters, libraries, or other organizations.
This not only teaches sharing and generosity, but helps kids feel like they can contribute to the community.