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Kids Sharing: This is How to put an end Fighting Over Toys

Kids sharing. When battles over toys happen, here is a strategy that will restore peace and end power struggles. Also find out what research says about why kids struggle to share so much and why you should't force your child to share.

When battles over toys happen, here is a strategy that will end fights over toys and answer the question about kids sharing. 


This summer our front patio has become a place that the neighbour kids congregate. When we’re home, it’s common to have anywhere from two to eight kids outside playing with mine. Whether it’s on the stoop experimenting with craft materials or on the lawn constructing with cardboard, it’s pretty amazing. These children range in age from four to eleven, have different maternal languages and ethnic histories, and are boys and girls.


And yet, when they come together, their play becomes almost instantly symbiotic. Their magic has me spellbound.


On hot days, the hose comes out. And they pull out water guns, the slip and slide, or just drench themselves in the silliest ways they can think up. When they get bored or thunderstorms roll in, I bring a big old box of forgotten toys up from the basement. Then their imaginations continue on uninterrupted.


This summer has been a wonderful one. But, it hasn’t been all peace and love. There have been power struggles too.


[Related reading: These Strategies Will End Power Struggles with Your Strong-Willed Child]


Namely, there have been issues with kids sharing.

With neighbour kids over and with new toys resurfacing, there have been times where my kids have been possessive.


From time to time, their fun will be cut with, “I had that first!”


Followed by, “But it’s mine!


According to the viral Facebook posts about kids sharing, it’s best not to force kids to share.

When it comes to not forcing kids to share, they’re right.


In the study,  Patterns of child-rearing, researchers found that when parents took away toys, a privilege or forced their children to do something, these kids were less likely to show the desire to cooperate with their parents’ rules than when reasoning was used.

All of this makes sense. However, these viral posts are about playing at the playground. In them, they say asking a kid to share his toy is the equivalent of letting a stranger play with your iPhone. I’m not overly concerned with playground sharing. We tend not to bring items to the playground we have the intention of using with everyone. (Think plastic beach toys bought at the dollar store, not a $1000 electronic or a favourite toy).


When their friends are over, I want my kids to be motivated to share. And using reasoning in the moment did not accomplish anything.


Kids sharing. When battles over toys happen, here is a strategy that will restore peace and end power struggles. Also find out what research says about why kids struggle to share so much and why you shouldn't force your child to share.


Kids sharing: Why it’s so hard for young kids.

Interestingly enough, studies have found that children as young as three-years-old understand that sharing is fair and desirable. When asked hypothetically whether or not they should share, children expressed that they should, in fact, share. However, when faced with situations similar to the hypothetical situation in the context of play, children under seven years-old struggled to do so.


In another study, when asked about whether or not a third party should share, preschoolers responded it is fair to split resources evenly. When asked if they would equally share their own resources, the preschoolers wanted to keep all of them to themselves.


Researchers have identified this disconnect as a self-interest bias. Developmental psychologists found that with age, children give more weight to what is expected socially rather on their own desires. And, as a result, the self-interest bias gets a back seat.


This gives us context and helps us understand why it’s just so darn hard for our kids to share. But, it doesn’t solve the problem.

One strategy that greatly helps with power struggles and kids sharing is this.

When the kids under my watch fight over toys, I’ve resorted to trial and error. And there was a whole lot of error that preceded my success. I tried to use reasoning. It didn’t work. I used timers. I would set a timer for five minutes for the first child to use an item. Then set the timer for five minutes for the second child to use the item. And then, the toy would go back to the first for five minutes until they mutually got tired of this imposed structure. Like the study suggested, forcing a child to adhere to this sharing schedule got me nowhere. All it did was had me more involved and had two less than happy children.


Then, somehow I decided to give this one technique a try. When a child comes to me, saying, “He has my toy. I wanted to play with it,” I do this. I tell the child, whether it’s one of my kids or one of the neighbours, to ask the other child, “When you’re done, can I have that?” So far, the other child always responds, “Yes.” Not only that, but the child with the toy tends to remember to give it to the child who wants it.


I love this approach to kids sharing because it empowers the child who is upset to express herself.

And, it doesn’t impede on the other child’s fun. Both know that they can have the toy for as long as they want. They just need to wait.


Also, it mimics real life. If I’m at the gym and all the treadmills are in use, I need to wait my turn. If my regular table is taken at Starbucks, I can’t yell at the guy who chose my window seat. I need to wait till he’s done or find another place to sit.


So far, this technique has worked every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a power struggle between my two kids or one of them and a neighbour or two neighbours. This strategy has dissipated tensions and resolved the conflict at hand.


I hope it helps you too!


For more great ideas like this, check out these posts below.

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10 responses to “Kids Sharing: This is How to put an end Fighting Over Toys”

  1. I LOVE this concept. It’s so simple, but like you said, so empowering! Obviously it will only work with kids who are old enough to really verbalize, but I’m going to try it tomorrow!

    1. Exactly, this sharing strategy is limited to verbal children, but it helps so much!

  2. This is amazing advice! I have 3 girls and 1 boy and they do get along very well for the most part, but there is always those times where they have a hard time sharing. I’m so glad I came across your blog today!

    1. Thanks so much for reading and for your very kind comment <3

  3. When children aren’t able to share, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either they haven’t been able to establish a sense of connection in the past few hours, or something has happened to remind them of hurtful times in the past, when they felt afraid or alone.

  4. […] the past, when my kids seem to be fighting all the time or when backtalk gets out of hand, my first step is to stop, drop, and […]

  5. Tried this – my 8 year old said no, he can’t use it when she isn’t using it. What now?

  6. I first ask for they toy they are fighting over as it stirs up more fighting when one is holding it and the other is not. Do not grab, snatch or pull out of their hands as this reinforces grabbing from each other. Than I remind them that sharing is: waiting quietly without complaint, taking turns by asking how many minutes (how long until their turn), and trading. Trading is offering a different toy that the other person may have wanted earlier or now. When I remind them and give them time to work out sharing with my gentle guidance, kids always work it out and as time goes on gets better with sharing issues.

  7. What happens when you have a 13 year old (we aren’t talking toddlers here) who is very possessive over her stuff. She had a fidget spinner that she barely ever played with 4-5 years ago. Since then it’s been at the bottom of a toy chest, it randomly found its way into my car and it’s most recently been sitting around in our office. My 10 year old just picked it up and started spinning it and my 13 year old saw that and immediately grabbed for it. My 10 year old said, “ummmm no, I’m playing with this”. She responded with, “it’s mine!!! Give it back!”

    So we had a fight over a toy spark up, something I used to deal with 6-7 years ago. She started going into total hysterics over this spinner and even started clenching her jaw and fists and crying…over a fidget spinner. I told her she can have it when he’s done playing with it. She argued that since he’s playing with her stuff, then she should be able to march into his room and go play with his toys. We told her no because the tit-for-tat angle she’s arguing with is ridiculous. She’s just trying any which way to get under the 10 year old’s skin and that she needed to go take her food that she made for herself and go cool off in her room. 10 minutes later she’s just now starting to calm down because she was up there sobbing.

    I asked her if something else was going on that might be triggering this big emotional response over a spinner because to me, this isn’t normal behavior for an older child to be so hyper-focused on a toy that she hasn’t played with, asked about or ever really shown any sort of interest in before. She needed it right then and there. Like, what is wrong with her? I don’t ask that question to her face but on here where she can’t read what I’m typing…what is wrong with her?

    I’m just baffled by this and I’m sick of it because she can be so possessive over her things. Books that are at a lower grade level that she no longer reads she has issues sharing with. My 10 year old is in love with one of the same series of books but she won’t let him touch them, let alone read them. They just sit on her bookshelf collecting dust. I don’t want to go out and buy a copy when we have one sitting in her room. That’s just silly. I’m so frustrated with this behavior of hers.

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About Me

Hi, I’m Alana. When I’m not nursing cold, stale coffee, I usually can be found with the baby on my hip, barefoot, and racing after my two older kids.

Thanks to a degree in psychology and a free-range childhood backing onto an expansive evergreen forest, positive parenting and play-based learning are my passions.

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