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Teaching toddlers to share their toys can be challenging but this positive approach will help you teach young children how to share without forcing them to do it. We tried this method with our son and it worked great!
When it comes to the way we raise our son, the first thing that usually surprises other people is that we raise him without any punishments or time-outs. One other thing that often brings questions from other parents is the fact that we never force our son to share his toys.
We never did this when he was a young toddler. And we still don’t do it now, when he is 4 years and 9 months old. We only focused on teaching him about sharing using a positive approach and this worked very well for us.
This is why I decided to share this approach in a blog post because I’m confident that it can help other parents too!
Why I don’t believe in forcing kids to share their toys
When we force kids to share their toys we don’t really teach them about sharing. Instead of allowing them to learn this skill we take the decisions in their place. This only leads to frustrations and unnecessary power struggles.
For kids, their toys are their precious possessions. They care about them. They are emotionally connected to them. Forcing them to share a toy when they are not ready to do it makes them feel powerless. It also steals them the right to decide about their own things.
Here are some important things to consider before forcing a child to share their toys:
- Children develop feelings for their toys and some things became too special for them to share.
- Kids do not really understand the concept of empathy at a very young age. It’s not that they don’t want to be generous but they have a really difficult time letting other kids play with their kids.
- Forcing kids to share toys by taking things out of their hands and handing them to other children is not offering them a good lesson about respect and autonomy. Children deserve our respect and forcing them to do something they don’t feel ready to do is not a respectful thing to do.
- The other side of not forcing kids to share their toys is that we teach them that other children have the same right. They are not supposed to share their toys if they don’t want to. This helps kids develop patience. And it also encourages them to develop social skills for convincing other kids to share their toys.
Instead of forcing my child to share the toys, I decided to help him develop this skill on his own. It took more patience and involvement but it was totally worthwhile.
This approach didn’t make him more selfish or self-centered. On the contrary, it helped him understand the benefits of sharing and made him more empathetic.
Our approach to sharing toys
Ever since my son was a toddler I tried to encourage him to share his toys without forcing him.
Here are 3 strategies that I used:
1. I encouraged him to observe the reaction of the other kids when he is sharing toys with them.
I showed him that when he decides not to share a toy the other child gets sad or even angry. On the other hand, I showed him how happy a child gets when he shares his toys with them.
I used the same approach in helping him observe his own reactions. We talked about how other kids’ decisions to share their toys (or not to) affects him. He realized that sharing makes him happy and this made him more likely to do this.
photo credit: Iryna Prokofieva / shutterstock.com
2. I showed him the benefits of sharing his toys.
Every time when he and another child would share toys and play together, I encouraged him to observe how nice it is to have more toys to play with and share the joy of playing with other kids.
I focused more on sharing the joy of playing and less on the benefit of having more toys because I didn’t want him to see sharing as a “trade” but as an opportunity to connect with other kids and develop friendships.
3. I never hurried him to share his toys.
My son is an introverted child so it’s not always easy for him to share his toys as soon as he meets other kids. So I let him know that there is no hurry. That it’s his right to share his toys when he is ready.
Still, this approach might bring frustrations for other kids who want a toy from him when he is not ready to share. We try to prevent this using a simple rule. If a child wants a toy from him and his decision not to share it makes the other child sad or angry, we need to find together a solution.
He can either share another toy of his choice. Or he can go to another place to play with his toys without adding more frustration to the other child.
I always tell him that he can return to the other child as soon as he is ready to share the toy. This usually happens soon if he wants to play with that child.
What about the situations when he needs to share toys with other kids?
The question that I always receive about this approach is how we handle the situations when our son goes to a playground or needs to share his toys at preschool.
We found a very simple way to handle this and it works great for us!
I explained to my son that there are 3 kinds of toys and that the sharing rules are different for each of them.
1. His toys
He has the right to decide if he wants to share his toys or not. Also, he has the right to decide when he is ready to share.
To prevent unnecessary issue at the playground, we also set a rule about the toys that we take to the park. I always ask him to choose toys that he is likely to share. There are toys that I know he would have difficulties sharing because they are his favorite toys. So I try to make sure that he only takes to the park toys that he would most likely share.
This helps prevent many unpleasant situations. Also, if sharing a toy in the park becomes difficult for him, I invite him to put it in my bag. Then he can play with it at home and find other toys to play with that he is more willing to share.
2. Other children’s toys
He knows that every child has the right to decide if they want to share their toys or not. I always explain to him that as he has this right, other kids have it too. And we need to respect their decisions.
If my son gets upset because another child doesn’t want to share the toys with him I just tell him that the child is not ready to do it and that maybe they will be ready later. He is very understanding about this.
photo credit: Anna Grigorjeva / shutterstock.com
3. Toys that need to be shared by many kids
This applies to the toys from preschool or different indoor playgrounds that we visit. The rule for these toys is that he needs to take turns and share them with other kids. He knows that the toys don’t belong to him so sharing is a lot easier.
Of course that sometimes there are moments when respecting these rules doesn’t go well. In those cases, I just set a firm limit using this strategy and I remind him about the rules in a calm and gentle manner. But in most of the situations, this approach works very well for us.
I noticed that sharing the toys has become easier in time. Now people are usually surprised by how generous my son is when it comes to sharing things.
Kids are naturally kind and generous. We just need to encourage them to develop skills like sharing. And they will surprise us in a very positive way!
More resources about teaching kids to share
- There are better ways to teach kids to share than forced sharing – I don’t have any experience in teaching siblings to share and I know that this is a big concern for many parents. This article from AHA Parenting is a great resource for teaching kids to share toys with their siblings and other kids.
- The Case Against Forcing Your Kid To Share Their Stuff – This article from Fatherly explains the reasons why forced sharing is not the best solution and offer an alternative for parents to try.
I hope that you’ll find these tips helpful! They worked very well for us and I would be glad if they would be inspiring for you too!
More from Playful Notes
- What to do instead of punishments? 5 gentle ways to discipline young kids
- Why it’s important to have special time with kids (+ 5 ideas)
- My biggest parenting struggles in the first 3 years of motherhood (and what helped me overcome them)
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