Teaching Children to Share Toys

In an earlier episode of Family Anatomy, Dr. Brian and I talked about sibling rivalry and how sharing toys gets played out in this context. Kids can become very attached to their toys. Many times, toys symbolize a sense of security. Young kids in particular often want to travel with their toy and keep it by their bedside at night. Stuffed animals and blankets are typically used in this way. Toys can also represent a source of happiness or even come to be integrated into a child’s sense of identity. The invested meaning that toys can have for kids can make sharing particularly difficult.

Sharing toys is something that can be encouraged in toddlers but parents should not expect toddlers to be able to comply with their wishes just yet. Developmentally, kids are more cognitively prepared to understand the significance and benefits of sharing at age four. Sharing is an important pro-social behaviour that kids would do well to learn. It is an important step in helping to create and maintain friendships. Learning the skills needed to build friendships and social networks is a protective factor and can be of benefit throughout your son or daughters’ life.

The problem, as many parents know, is that kids tend to find sharing very difficult. So, what can parents do?

The majority of sharing issues for parents happen within the home between siblings. Siblings tend to find it particularly difficult to share especially if parents get involved in settling disputes. Parents’ direct involvement can unintentionally convey a preference for one child over another. This can intensify the conflict. In addition, by resolving the dispute, parents are denying kids the opportunity to learn how to problem solve. Parents should set the stage by laying out the ground rules and letting their kids problem solve and come up with their own solutions for sharing. For instance, parents can give kids an opportunity to arrive at a mutually agreed upon plan for sharing. They can also let their kids know that, if they cannot come up with a plan, the toy in question will be taken away. Parents should also keep in mind that, while sharing is important, kids also need to feel that there are special toys that are just for them and that it is okay not to share toys that are particularly important or meaningful to them.

You can read more about this here.

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2 Responses to Teaching Children to Share Toys
  1. Wayne Clement
    August 26, 2009 | 3:09 pm

    Children need to learn to share and to have better social skills. The problem lies not with the child but with the parents. We live in an authoritarian culture where private property is expected. People who do not respect the property of others get hurt.

    Yes it would be better for all of us shared the wealth. But parents knowingly or unknowingly pass the fear of sharing on to their children. In a culture of all or nothing, no one is willing to share. In fact, in this type of culture, it could be considered wrong to teach children to share. It seems to me that it is the parents who are more concerned about who’s toys belong to who? Telling a child that they need to share their toys implies that it is their toy.

    You can read more about this here.

  2. Dr. Giuseppe Spezzano, C. Psych.
    August 28, 2009 | 10:16 am

    You have an interesting perspective on this Wayne. There are clearly different norms around sharing depending on your cultural background. There is a continuum between individualistic and communal cultures. The right to private ownership in our culture is conveyed to kids through parents as well as through the larger community and media. There are certainly examples of more communal cultures where private ownership is not as highly valued and this can be reflected in the lessons children are taught.