Source: iVillage

Cathryn Tobin, MD

When my youngest was four years old, she became very possessive about her toys. She is eight now, and sharing is no longer a major issue. But every day I get calls from frustrated, confused and embarrassed mothers asking me how their child will learn to share.

What’s a parent to do when a child refuses to share a toy with her sibling or friend? Let’s answer this question by first looking at what not to do.

4 Common Mistakes in Teaching Children to Share

1. Never force a child. What do you think a child learns 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 off your desk, then turns around and 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.

2. Don’t force older kids to share with younger ones. Younger kids want to be like their older siblings. When my eldest daughter is playing with a ball, her younger brother and sister want the ball, the pen, the book, the toy, whatever it is that she’s playing with. But is it fair to expect my daughter to give her younger siblings a turn just because they want one? Sometimes we forget that 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.

3. Never 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.

4. Never, ever pry a toy out of your child’s hands. I can’t think of a single situation, other than a safety issue, where I would say it’s justified to snatch a toy from a child’s hand. When you resort to physical force, you’re teaching your kids to do the same. It’s far better to ask for the toy and hold out your hand — most often, if you use a no-nonsense tone of voice, your child will likely cooperate. A toddler who is unwilling to give up a toy shouldn’t be forced to do so — the lesson is lost if force is necessary.

10 Best Ways To Get Your Child to Share Her Toys

When parents get involved in toy squabbles, the primary goal should not be to teach your child a lesson on sharing. Rather, the goal is to intervene in a manner that does no harm (i.e., doesn’t create bad feelings between the kids). Children are highly sensitive to silent messages. If a parent asks an older sibling to hand over the toy he’s playing with to his younger brother, the older child hears, “Mom likes the baby better than me.” If one child whines to his mother and she gets involved on his behalf, the other child is bound to feel hurt and resentful toward his sibling. Take a commonsense approach and intervene in a manner that does no harm.

1. 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. Another strategy is to give your children a few options and let them choose.

2. 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.

3. Apologize on your toddler’s behalf. If your toddler grabs a toy from another child, there’s nothing wrong with apologizing on your child’s behalf. In this way, you show the other child respect without harboring unrealistic expectations of your little one.

4. 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.

5. Know yourself. Sandy, whose toddler doesn’t object when a toy is grabbed out of her hand, can’t tolerate her daughter’s timidity, so she jumps in. “Excuse me, Jenny is playing with that toy,” she says, as she thinks, “Oh, poor Jenny.” Then she insists that the other child return the toy. One day it occurred to Sandy that it didn’t bother Jenny when someone took a toy out of her hand. She realized that she was reacting to her own feelings about the situation and ignoring her daughter’s reactions. After this epiphany, she stopped stepping in on her daughter’s behalf. What’s important is to stop projecting our own emotions onto a situation. Ask yourself, “Who owns the problem?”6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Understand sibling dynamics. A youngster 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. One family I know encourages their kids to share the limelight. Every Sunday night, they have a family concert; one child plays the piano, another tells jokes, and the youngest reads to show off her new skills.

9. Work on relationships. Sometimes the problem lies in the relationship. Are you likely to share with someone you’re angry with? Would you give up something you cherish to someone whom you resent? Unlikely. Try to resolve some of the deeper issues present in your child’s reactions.

10. Acknowledge generosity. When I came down for breakfast one morning, I found my son Max preparing treats for all of his friends at school. When I saw what he was doing, I almost blurted out, “I need to feed your whole class?” I caught myself, and instead of criticizing him, I praised him for being a good friend.

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.