Teaching Siblings to Share

Even kids who have the biggest hearts and share happily with their friends and classmates can struggle with sharing so effortlessly with their siblings! Do your children often get in arguments about the littlest things like who needs a single Magnatile for their building project more, or who deserves to play with a sandbox toy first? 

It’s crucial for parents and caretakers to teach siblings how to share lovingly at a young age. This can equip your children with the skills and language to compassionately compromise with one another as they grow older, when the subjects of arguments are more substantial, like over using the family car or respecting personal items like clothes. 

Help your children get comfortable with sharing with their siblings by using these tips about boundaries and caring with your kids!

1. Use the “3 Minutes or 5 Minutes” rule.

When your children inevitably argue over both wanting to play with a single toy at the same time, try using the “3 minutes or 5 minutes” rule. 

When one of your children asks to play with a toy that your other child is actively playing with and they protest sharing it, try casually intervening and saying, “I see that he/she is asking to share that toy with you. How about you play with it for a bit, we share it with him/her, and then they can share it back with you in a few minutes?” 

Once establishing sharing the toy is clearly and calmly explained, your child will either happily share or still refuse to share. This is where the new rule will come in. You can say, “If you still don’t want to share, you are going to need to at some point because sharing is kind. So, three minutes or five minutes with that toy?” You are essentially asking how many more minutes they want with the toy before they need to share it with their sibling. If they still refuse to choose, tell them that it will be three minutes instead of five minutes and that you will set a timer. Also, make it very clear that their kind sharing goes both ways! Once they share the toy with their sibling and their sibling has played with it for the same number of minutes, they need to share it back, too!

More often than not, they will both forget whose turn it is to play with the toy and they will play with the toy together. This technique makes sharing a priority, while allowing your children to still have a choice in deciding how long they get to spend with the toy before sharing it with their sibling. Creating boundaries around sharing can be really helpful when teaching your children how to share if they are having a hard time willingly sharing with their siblings!

2. Establish household boundaries around sharing toys that were gifts.

Do your children often argue over toys that were given to one of them as a birthday present or a holiday gift? It is understandable if your children want time to be the only one to play with their new, special toys, so it is important to establish well-known boundaries in your household around how long before your children can play with each others’ new toys. 

A good general household rule around new toys and respecting each others’ property and boundaries is to make sure your children are asking each other permission to go into their personal space and play with their toys. This rule is a great way to prevent arguments involving sharing. 

The more your children respect each others’ personal property and show each other that they respect their boundaries, the more likely they are to willingly share with one another!

3. Then establish a special place to keep those toys.

An important boundary to have in your household is to establish separate places for each of your children to keep their new or special toys. When your children express that they want boundaries but their toys, it’s important for your other children to understand and respect those boundaries, and you can help by designating there are special toy spots.This will also help to lay the groundwork for respecting each other’s personal property, which becomes increasingly important as your children get older.

Make sure that your children know to ask each other before going into their special spots and borrowing the toys that are primarily they’re siblings and are important to them. Another rule should be that once their sibling is done playing with the toy from their special spot, they must return it when they are done playing with it.

4. Ask your child how their upset sibling must feel in the moment.

When one of your children won’t share with their sibling, it’s very evident how they feel through their facial expressions, body language, and frustrated words. You can use this as a teaching experience for strengthening their sibling’s empathy!

When one of your children won’t share with their sibling and their sibling gets frustrated or upset, take a moment to get down to their level and ask your child who isn’t willing to share how their sibling must feel in that moment. Draw attention to their facial expression and body language and the tone of their voice. You can ask them how they think their sibling is feeling when they don’t share with them, or how they would feel in that situation.

Empathy is a strong tool for encouraging children to share with one another. There’s a high chance that once you help facilitate understanding and point out how it makes people feel when someone won’t share with them, your child will choose to share their toys with their sibling after all!

5. Use positive reinforcement whenever you see sharing naturally happening.

Peaceful and happy sharing might happen in your household  everyday or it might happen once in a blue moon, but it’s important to make it a big deal when you do see your children sharing with one another. Use positive reinforcement by giving your children praise when you see them sharing nicely with one another. This can be one of the best ways to encourage sharing in your household. You can use phrases like, “Wow! I’m so impressed with how you two are sharing your dolls with one another!” or, “I love how you just shared your special Legos with your sister! That was so kind of you!”

6. Don’t automatically assume the side of the youngest or oldest sibling.

One of the biggest mistakes parents can make when trying to help their children learn to share toys with one another is to automatically assume that one child is not sharing with the other. If you always take the side of one of your children, this can be frustrating to the other child and create negative feelings around sharing. This is actually counterintuitive to your goal! So, make sure that you are to merely understand the situation before helping your children work out their problems when it comes to sharing in a fair way.

7. Talk to your oldest child separately and express your sharing expectations.

Talking to your oldest child separately and in a loving way about your sharing expectations can be a significant step in helping your children to share. Explain how it makes you feel when they share their toys willingly with their siblings, make sure they are clear on the household rules when it comes to special toys, and give them the tools and language they need for when their sibling asks for a toy that they are not willing to share at that moment. Help them understand why it is so important to share and that you appreciate it when they do. Ultimately, if your oldest child is going through a phase where they want their personal space from their younger sibling, it could be a sign of maturity, or they could feel a little bit of resentment toward their younger sibling if they feel you have been giving more attention to their sibling. 

Check in with yourself and make sure that your attention is spread equally among your children! If you feel that you may have needed to spend more of your attention on your youngest child recently, this talk might remind your oldest child to see that their actions matter to you, too, and that you fully acknowledge the times when they are kind to their sibling. A little extra love and attention goes a long way!

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Teaching Siblings to Share

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