Sharing Toys

Group of young children playing together

If your young children are like most, they may find it difficult to let others play with their toys. Here are a few of the sharing predicaments that other parents have found themselves in and what they did: 

Compliment Her Character

"No! I won't share my toy!" my 4-year-old niece, Beth, insisted when her mother told her to share with her cousin.

Little Beth's tone was sharp and rude. I wondered how her mother was going to handle the situation.

Beth's mother softly replied, "Yes, you will. Do you want to know why?"

"Why?" Beth could not hold back her curiosity.

Her mother continued in the same gentle voice. "Because you are my kind, sweet Beth who always does nice things for others, like sharing your toys."

Beth looked down at the toy in her hand and then slowly handed it to her cousin. Telling a child she is sweet and kind reinforces those character qualities.

—Harriet E. Michael

First Steps in Sharing

My son has trouble watching someone play with his toys, so before friends arrive, I allow him to pick a few special items to put on top of the refrigerator. This gives him some say over what he's willing to share. Then if he has trouble sharing his other toys, I gently remind him that his friend may take a turn playing with them.

—Karen Gauvreau

A Toy Box Truce

My boys are just 15 months apart and have similar interests. When they were younger, they were often caught in a tug-of-war over toys. I tried to solve this problem by encouraging them to share, putting them in different rooms with different toys and distracting them when they fought over their jumbo teddy bear.

Then my husband and I came up with an idea: At the start of playtime, we put their favorite toys in a pile between the boys and had them take turns choosing one from the pile until the toys were divided equally. This method ended the selfish struggle between them. Since they each picked their favorites, and took turns doing so, it helped to remove the tension and allowed them to play independently. But on most days, they chose to combine their chosen toys and play with each other without fighting. This simple method allowed my boys to begin treating each other in the way God would want them to.

—Sue Nowick

Permission Granted

My three boys were playing when I heard my youngest say, "That's mine. Give it back!" I found Joseph's plane lying on the floor. Every time his brother picked it up, Joseph declared ownership. I suggested my other son try asking his brother to use it.

He said, "Joseph, may I play with your plane, please?"

Without even looking up, Joseph said, "Sure!"

Joseph had simply wanted to know that his brother respected his ownership of the toy plane.

—Denise McConnell

Others First

We have three children — twin daughters and a son — all under the age of 3. Sharing is a character trait that my husband and I deeply value, so we've created a routine to help encourage it.

When our children ask for something, such as a snack, we hand it to them and say, "Please serve your sister (or brother) first." Our children are expected to share first, keeping the last item for themselves. We knew this concept was sinking in when our daughter Lauren was given a special treat and automatically offered her sister the first bite.

—Lisa Max

Take Turns

The challenges of training my older two have helped with my 20-month-old. It is rewarding to watch them pick similar toys (e.g., cars) that allow for interaction without intervention. And a timer works well when turns need to be controlled by Mom, to reassure the boys they are receiving equal treatment.

—Anna Williams

Solomon's Wisdom and a Doll

One Saturday afternoon 3-year-old Sami and her cousin Mallory were fighting over a doll. The girls came running to me, jostling each other to be the first one to tattle.

"Mommy," Sami said breathlessly, "it's my turn to play with the doll. It's my doll, and I already let her play with it."

Mallory shook her head. "It's my doll !"

"No, it's mine."

I held up my hand. I wasn't sure whose doll it was. They'd both received a similar one for Christmas. Aha ! I had it. The age-old story of wise Solomon and the coveted baby came to mind. I tried to remember how it played out. Oh yes, two moms fighting over a baby, and the wise judge intervened by threatening to cut the baby in two. Because of his judgment, the real mother was found — she was willing to give up her baby, rather than let it die.

"How about this," I said. "We'll cut the doll in half and give each of you a half."

They were both quiet. Sami looked forlorn. Brilliant, I thought to myself. This just might work. "OK, Mommy," she finally said. "But … I get the head !"

Mallory gasped, "No, I do!"

I sighed. "Girls ?"

They both turned to look at me.

"I'm not going to cut the doll in half."

They looked confused. "Why not ?" each asked.

I didn't bother to explain. "Mallory, you get the doll for 10 minutes. Then give it to Sami to play with. Let's share it. Any arguments and neither of you gets it. Got it ?"

"Got it," they said in unison.

I handed Mallory the doll and off they went.

Brilliant, I thought. Just brilliant.

—Elsa Kok Colopy

The compiled article "Sharing Toys" first appeared on (2017). "Compliment Her Character" first appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "First Steps in Sharing" first appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "A Toy Box Truce" first appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Solomon's Wisdom and a Doll" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Early Stages, January 2008 and was titled "Parents Like Us." "Permission Granted," "Others First" and "Take Turns" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Early Stages, October 2007, and were titled "Share With Others." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

The compiled article "Sharing Toys" © 2017 by Focus on the Family. "Compliment Her Character" © 2017 by Harriet E. Michael. "First Steps in Sharing" © 2016 by Karen Gauvreau. "A Toy Box Truce" © 2010 by Sue Nowicki and Shelly Radic. "Solomon's Wisdom and a Doll" © 2007 by Elsa Kok Colopy. "Permission Granted" by Denise McConnell; "Others First" by Lisa Max; "Take Turns" by Anna Williams — © 2007. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Teaching Preschoolers to Be Kind

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