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.

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