By Team Tomorrow
Published December 31, 2020
Whether it’s arguing over who gets the Nintendo Switch or some deeper sibling rivalry, you need to get
the kids to stop fighting. You need it to stop yesterday.
You need them to learn to communicate and take turns. They need to learn how to share. You want
them to have a relationship like the one you have with your sister – your best friend who’s the guardian
of these children in your will.
Sharing can greatly improve sibling relationships, but it’s a complex lesson to teach. Part of that is
because it’s multifaceted, and not all the lessons of sharing can be taught at every level of childhood
Sharing is a concept we all want our children to learn. But what do we really mean when we say
‘sharing?’ Often, what we’re really trying to teach is:
● Generosity of spirit
● Communication skills
● Interpersonal skills
If siblings got along all the time, life would be easier. But sharing isn’t something you can force.
Let’s say your younger child is screaming for their turn and the older child won’t give up the toy or video
game system. If you force the older child to resign their turn, you’re actually teaching the mirror
opposite of the lesson you’re trying to impart.
You’re trying to teach your older child the spirit of generosity. Instead, you’re teaching them that if
they’re working on a task and someone interrupts loudly, they should divert their attention,
disregarding their own goals in order to accommodate another person’s inappropriate behavior.
In the same moment, you’re trying to institute ‘fairness’ for the younger child. The older child has had a
long enough turn in your opinion. But from this experience, the younger sibling learns instead that when
they throw a fit, they’ll get what they want.
The lessons learned from forced sharing aren’t the ones you want to teach. Luckily, there are plenty of
ways to teach sharing without forcing it — regardless of your child’s age or developmental level.
Distracting a ten-year-old from a social problem sitting right in front of them isn’t always age-
appropriate, though it might be the right thing to do with a toddler.
A toddler, on the other hand, is still learning about their own bodily autonomy and boundaries; they’re
not ready to work on the spirit of generosity as they’re still working out their own self-awareness.
You may not be able to teach a toddler sharing, but you can teach them other developmentally
If your toddler wants a toy from a sibling, distract them with another toy or activity. The idea here isn’t
to teach your toddler generosity. Instead, it’s to encourage them towards positive behavior without
Games, in fact, can be a great way to prime your toddler for all the lessons in sharing they’re bound to
encounter over the next few years. One way to do this is to pick a bunch of flowers or collect some
other item with your toddler, encouraging them to give one to each family member when they go
inside. Reinforce the favor through praise and expressed gratitude.
With both toddlers and young children, preventing problems can go a long way to solving them. If there
are toys or other possessions their other siblings rightfully don’t want destroyed or chewed upon, you
can store these in a special place where only you can access them.
Toddlers may play games to learn about sharing, but once your child is a preschooler, they’re ready for
you to layer on more lessons.
A great way to teach is by modeling the behavior yourself. When you or someone else shares, point out
the positive rewards to foster and encourage sharing. For example, if you lend your sister a shirt, you
could point out:
● How helping her makes you feel happy
● How beautiful she looks in the shirt
● How nice it is to know you will be able to borrow a shirt from your sister when it’s your turn
Similar lessons can be taught when an older sibling shares, and even when the preschooler themselves
share. Pointing out the positive rewards in the moment – without a delayed response – helps cement
positive feelings around that generosity of spirit you’re working so hard to foster.
Along the way, there will inevitably be conflict. When this happens, help your child talk through their
feelings instead of screaming or throwing a fit.
When their feelings are expressed, don’t force the other sibling to share. But do encourage them to talk
through the conflict. As this happens more often, both siblings will learn what does and doesn’t work
when it comes to interpersonal communication.
Giving your children adequate time for unstructured play together helps with sharing too. Try to create
opportunities to play games together. Think kickball, the-floor-is-lava or any other games where the
focus is each other rather than an object.
Older children can take on even more lessons when it comes to sharing with their siblings.
If you’re having trouble inspiring that unstructured play time, sit down with your older child 1:1. Let
them know how much they’d be helping the family if they played nicely with their sibling. Offer it as an
opportunity for leadership you know they’re ready for rather than an obligation.
You know they can do it, and that they’re ready for the responsibilities.
It can also help older children to know just how much their younger sibling looks up to them. Help them
Explain that the reason their siblings keep taking their toys or ‘annoying’ them is because they want to
be just like them. They want to play with all the same toys because they admire the older sibling.
Providing this as an opportunity to demonstrate maturity and leadership gives your child the
opportunity to grow and apply all those lessons you’ve spent so many years teaching them.
Of course, the end goal is to raise children who get along and also have a healthy sense of self. To do so,
But also model the behaviors you’d like to see in them. Show your own generosity of spirit by spending
plenty of 1:1 time with each child. Communicate your own feelings in a healthy way, and encourage
them to do the same in your conversations.
And finally, the lesson of patience is a huge part of sharing. Teaching this lesson is going to take time. It’s
not a switch you can turn on and off. But it is a lesson you can teach, even if you have to call upon a little
patience of your own.
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