By Dr. Gregory Gordon
Teaching children to share is difficult. Second children are born into a competitive world where all the toys belong to their older sibling. Sharing becomes an issue when a younger sibling becomes mobile. Typically, the crawling younger child finds a toy and begins to play with it. The older sibling then immediately wants the exact same toy and the struggle begins.
In the first few months, the technique that has served us well is “trading.” This technique only works for about 6 months (from 9 months to 15 months). Trading is teaching the older child to exchange another toy for the desired toy. Giving their younger sibling a new toy allows the older sibling to obtain the desired toy without conflict (usually). This is by no means a long-term solution, but it is a good introduction to sharing for many older siblings. Through trading, older siblings are forced to recognize that the younger sibling has some rights. Trading does not usually work as children get older, as eventually the little sibling won’t trade.
When trading no longer works, we begin to use “counting” to teach sharing. This usually begins when the younger child is 15 to 18 months old. When two of our younger children want to play with the same toy, we use counting to take turns. While one child plays with the toy, the other counts. (Usually to ten with parent for the toddler, and to twenty for 3 and up). My wife introduced this technique to our family, and it really works. When starting this technique, often the younger child cries when you take the toy away, but they quickly learn the concept. Our older children typically “give in” since after two to three turns they “don’t want to count again”. It is always amazing to me that our 3-year-olds are happy to beat their little brother with a stick, but the toy is not worth counting. As a side benefit, our children are often some of the best counters in pre-school.
Dr. Gregory Gordon grew up in Gainesville, Florida. He attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate and medical degrees. After he completed his pediatric residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he joined Pediatric Associates of Orlando. Dr. Gordon is the proud father of eight children. He is the Vice President of “The Gift of Swimming” (a local charity that provides swim lessons to Orlando’s needy children). In early 2010 Dr. Gordon started gregorygordonmd.com to share his pediatric and parenting experience.