Ways to Encourage Sharing Between Toddlers and Older Siblings

“Sibling rivalry” is a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of many parents. This can be even more challenging when one sibling is a toddler, as they are not yet likely to have the verbal or cognitive skills of their older sibling. While sharing may seem almost impossible when it involves siblings, toddlers, or both, there are some tips to help encourage sharing between toddlers and older siblings.

First, it is important to think about what sharing is. It is asking someone who has an item to give it up for someone else, for no reason other than because they were told to. Of course this is hard for children to learn! It is hard for most adults as well. Learning to share is hard because young children are still in an egotistical state of development. They cannot yet internalized what the other person is feeling, and it is not important to them. In order to help a child learn to share, children must be interested in what another person is feeling. They must also not feel powerless in the situation.
In the case of siblings, you are working with two very different ages and stages of development. Here are a few tips to help.

Make sure that both your children have items that they do not have to share. This special collection can be kept in a special place. This is especially important for your older child, who may be feeling that the younger child is allowed to take everything away from him.

Respect when your child does not want to share and support them. If one child wants something that your other child has, the answer does not always have to be “yes.” If someone came up to you and said they want your car, would you immediately give it to them? Allowing your child to say no to sharing has two positive results. It builds the trust and respect your child has for you. It also avoids making a child feel they need to protect what is theirs. A child who is always shown that anything they have can be taken away at any time will dig in and never share.

The way to approach sharing with older siblings varies depending on the personality of your children. Some older siblings embrace the responsibility and are quick to understand that as an older brother or sister, they are a role model and need to act as such. These children only need an explanation of how things stand and they are likely to help much of the time. Make sure to praise and reward your older children every time they show a good example.

Getting toddlers to share is a little more difficult. If your toddler’s older sibling is doing a good job modeling sharing, you can definitely use that to your advantage, as toddlers often want to be like their older siblings. If not, it’s up to you to model sharing. Point out every time someone shares with your toddler and how nice that is. Even more importantly, praise your toddler every time he or she shares, even begrudgingly. It will eventually make a difference. Toddler also will very often give up what they have if offered something else. Teaching your older child to offer a trade may bring more success. Finally, remember that even a toddler doesn’t have to share. Showing your toddler now that you respect their choices, and that they don’t have to be overly protective with their toys will help them want to share more in just a few years.