Dear Dadvice,

How do you make your children share? I’m afraid to take my daughter on playdates where they have toys because she often gets ahold of something and won’t let it go. Any advice you could give would be appreciated!
~ Tug-o-war dad

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot lately by friends with only one child is “how do you get your sons to share.” It’s not as easy of an obstacle as teaching them to skip, or say their alphabet. A teaching moment about sharing isn’t easily fabricated, and It really needs to just present itself. The trick is knowing how to move forward when that happens. You’re also going to run into the camp that says that children shouldn’t have to share. They use the argument that grown-ups don’t share their personal property with others, why should kids have to.

Don’t worry, I’m on your side. Sharing isn’t about relinquishing a toy when another child wants it, or learning that if someone has a possession we crave, we’ll eventually get a turn with it. Sharing teaches cooperation, teamwork, and generosity.  It’s not our jobs, as parents, to teach a two year old that “life isn’t fair or to “Buck up and deal with it.” They’ll learn THAT lesson soon enough. Let’s work on getting them to that stage later. For now we want our children to learn how to be nice little boys and girls, instead of the kid on the playground that no one wants to be around. This is done by encouraging fair play, courtesy, and yes… sharing.

Here are 5 tips to help children cope with the practice of sharing:

1. Let them have a voice.

Children want to be in control. So much of their life is dictated by us, the parents. Sometimes they just want to make a decision or two for themselves. Use this wisdom to your advantage. If they are playing with something their brother or sister wants, explain that sharing is expected, and ask if they’d like to play with it for 5 more minutes, or maybe try another activity. You can use the choice strategy with the other child as well. “He’s still playing with it right now, but while we’re waiting for him to finish, do you want to stack blocks, or read a book?”

2. Utilize a timer.

Sometimes you will hear, “it hasn’t been five minutes yet” or “He’s been playing with it too long, it’s my turn.” Use a timer to dictate when one person’s time with a toy or activity is finished and when another’s will begin. This way there’s no disputing it.

3. Purchase more than one of an item.

Having twins, this is very common in our house. We’ll often buy two of something, and then make sure that there is a little bit of a difference. The boys picked out Elmo and Big Bird dolls when we went to Sesame Street Live. They have both a toy bull dozer and a toy dump truck. It doesn’t mean that they won’t, at some point, both want the dump truck, but at least it’s easier to get one to play with the bulldozer until it’s their turn with it’s mate.

4. Make sharing a game.

Taking turns is another form of sharing. Work on a project where they both alternate helping, like playing a game, or doing a puzzle. Make sure to praise them for waiting their turn patiently.

5. Lead by example

The best way for your three or four year old to learn generosity is to witness it. Share a snack with them. Offer him or her your scarf to fashion into a superhero’s cape, and ask if you can try on his their hat. Use the word share to describe what you’re doing, and don’t forget to teach that intangibles (like feelings, ideas and stories) can be shared too. Most important, let them see you give and take, compromise and share with others.

One thing to remember is that as frustrating as it may be, don’t punish your child if they don’t catch on to sharing right away. It’s natural to be o.k sharing some items and not others. This will change in time when their friendships with peers becomes more important than possessions. Get excited when they do share and remember to use positive reinforcement. It’s not something they will grow out of overnight, but it’s not the end of the world either.

With a little time, and a lot of patience, I’m sure it’ll come out alright in the end.