Sharing: Ways to Get Your Child to Play Fair

We all want our kids to play nice -- but what's a parent to do when her tot refuses to share a toy with her sibling or friend? Learn the do's and don'ts of getting your kids to share and play fair from Cathryn Tobin, M.D., author of The Parent's Problem Solver.

Do: Look for solutions, not faults. If kids are fighting over a toy and they can't find a solution, hold both children responsible for the conflict and encourage them to work it out between themselves. The trick is to give the kids the tools they need to resolve these conflicts, then stay out of things as much as possible. One tool that works well is to say, "Okay, we've got a problem. Both of you want to play with the same toy, and that's not possible. How can we solve this problem?" Then stand back and let your kids work it out. 

Do: Be realistic.
By the very nature of how a child develops a sense of himself and the world around him, selfishness precedes generosity. When you recognize that this is a normal part of infant development, responding calmly and compassionately to squabbles will become easier.

Do: Observe without intervention. When your children are fighting over a toy, resist the urge to jump into the ring along with them (unless, of course, things are getting physical). This behavior leads to win-lose outcomes, which often means someone's going to get hurt. In addition, your children will learn to depend on you to solve their problems.

Do: Use distraction. You can turn your child's mood around by getting her involved in something different. Not every toy conflict needs to become a platform for teaching your child about sharing.

Don't: Add fuel to the fire. Jack wants his sister's coloring book, which she has no intention of sharing. Is it essential that the kids take turns? No, what's essential is this: Don't increase sibling rivalry by putting yourself between the kids.

Do: Understand sibling dynamics. A kid may be generous with friends but unwilling to share with a sibling because he's busy keeping score. "You wouldn't let me look at your loot bag -- so why should I give you a piece of gum?" A scorecard mentality leads to resentment, bitterness and grudges. Break this habit by helping your kids see the things they do for each other, instead of obsessing about the things they don't. A simple comment like, "That was nice of your brother to lend you his skates," is sometimes all that's needed. 

Don't: Force a child to share. What does a child learn when a toy is snatched away from him and given to another child? Imagine for a moment that your boss walks into your office, grabs your laptop, then gives it to a coworker. Is there any reason to assume that this would inspire in you a desire to share? Aren't you in fact more likely to become tightfisted? As the most influential person in your child's life, you can teach the values that lead to sharing without forcing them upon her.

Don't: Force older kids to share with younger ones. Younger kids want to be like their older siblings. They want whatever it is that their brother or sister is playing with. But is it fair to expect an older child to give her younger siblings a turn just because they want one? The flip side of sharing is respect. Teaching siblings to respect another's space is as important as the generosity of spirit we want to instill in them.

Don't: Force kids to take turns. Taking turns is a basic strategy parents use to teach their kids to share. But a child needs to understand the concept of time before this lesson is of any instructive value. Be aware that time concepts don't develop until the age of three.

Sure, it's embarrassing when kids are inconsiderate or greedy, but when you have confidence in your child's basic goodwill, you're less apt to feel angry or frustrated and better able to respond to conflicts with gentle understanding.

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