The joys (and agonies) of sharing

If your child is in pre-school or in early elementary, chances are they are learning to share.

Maybe someone asks your daughter for a turn with a toy, but she’s not quite finished yet. What do you say?

“Okay Myrtle, it’s time to give someone else a turn.” (For some reason, I just really wanted your hypothetical daughter to be named Myrtle today.)

What if Myrtle says no? Is it fair to tell her to hand it over, just because someone else asked? Is Myrtle allowed to claim toys that other children are holding? Shouldn’t kids learn to share and be generous with each other?

There’s no denying; forced sharing is a tough sell. It’s hard on the parents who are stuck timing, coaching and refereeing the hand-offs, and it’s hard on the children who were playing happily one minute and find themselves in intense negotiations the next minute.

What’s the alternative to forced sharing?

Well, you could try letting kids share on their own terms. This practice is supported by experts like Dr. Laura Markham, who point out benefits like delayed gratification and spontaneous generosity. It does seem like a more humane and reasonable approach…

…but how do you help a child who is still learning to wait?

How do you teach a child to wait patiently for a turn when they would really rather cry, shout, grab and pinch? How do you even leave the room when there are battles and brawls breaking out over the “best” item?

kids won't share
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How do you teach your child to accept “not now” as an answer?


Here’s the trick: kids do have a hard time understanding “no.”

It’s much easier to teach “try this instead.”

This menu of choices gives your kids a chance to avoid a tug-o-war. It’s simple, and it gives your child a chance to choose.


This rest of this post is written in simple language, so you can share it with your child. It’s like a script you can use when your young child really wants to play with a toy that is already in use:

1) Ask.

Just ask. Nicely. Just walk up and say “Can I play with that please?” or “Can I have a turn?”

Sometimes, the answer will be “yes.” Ta da! If the answer is “no,” that’s okay, you have three other choices to try.

ask for the toy
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2) Trade.

Maybe you have something to swap. Look around to see if there’s anything that you could offer. Ask: “Want to trade?”

This works better than grabbing. Sometimes, the answer will be “yes.”

trade instead of grab
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3) Wait.

Just stay nearby, and see when the toy is free. Waiting isn’t much fun, but you can choose it if you want.

wait for the toy
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4) Find.

Find something else. This one is like waiting, but you get to have fun while your turn comes around.

To find something fun, look around the room, look in another room, or ask a grown-up for ideas.

find something else to do
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There you are! Instead of fighting, grabbing, or whining, you can try one of these.

Then it will be your turn, and you can play until you are done.


(Would these doggie pictures be useful to you as cards? As a poster? If you’re interested in downloading them, please send me a note via the comment form below!)


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