Teaching Siblings to Share

Brynne Conroy

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

development.

What Does Sharing Teach Children?

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

● Patience

● Communication skills

● Interpersonal skills

Don’t Force Siblings to Share

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.

Child Development: Sharing Lessons Should be Age-appropriate.

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.

Toddler Sharing Activities & Solutions

You may not be able to teach a toddler sharing, but you can teach them other developmentally

appropriate lessons.

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

issuing punishment.

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.

Sharing Concepts for Preschoolers

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.

Sharing Concepts for Older Children

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

contextualize this.

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.

The End Goal: Raising Children Who Get Along

Of course, the end goal is to raise children who get along and also have a healthy sense of self. To do so,

teach sharing.

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.