“Mom, I had it first!” “No, I did.” “It was mine!” “I don’t want to share.”
Push, hit, grab…One kid is crying, one child is screaming.
Eventually, you snap, “Okay, fine! Give your brother the toy NOW!” There’s only so much you can take as you try to make dinner and do all the other things as well.
Does this sound familiar?

Sharing is one of the most challenging things for children to do. From a developmental perspective, we don’t expect our little kids to be able to share generously. As adults, if you think about it, we have unique items (like our phones) we don’t usually want to share with our friends or siblings. This is what it feels like for our children their favourite toys (okay, all the toys…). 

When working with families struggling with sharing in their homes, I like to start with a shift in perspective – changing the language from “sharing” to “turn-taking.” 

It might sound like sharing and turn-taking is the same, but they are pretty different. Neither is right or wrong as a goal, but if your children struggle with sharing, practicing turn-taking may be helpful in your home.

Sharing vs. Turn-taking

With sharing, limits are set by an outside force, and sharing often puts a time limit on the amount of time the child has the toy. Sharing also requires parents to be present to mediate. On the other hand, turn-taking is child-directed, and it equips kids to resolve battles on their own. It is important to remember that sharing and turn-taking are complex skills that take time, practice, and modelling to learn. 

Here is an example of what turn-taking may look like: 

A child is playing with a toy that another child suddenly wants. The waiting child can go up to the toy holder and ask for a turn. If the waiting child is not verbal, a caregiver can do this with them. The toy holder is free to give up the toy right then, but does not have to.

Instead, the toy holder may say, “You can have the toy when I’m done,” and continue playing. When they’re ready to do something else, they turn the toy over to the waiting child.

If the toy holder doesn’t give up the toy until bedtime, the waiting child gets the first pick of the toy in the morning.

5 Reasons to Teach Turn-taking

1. Teaches Patience

Patience is another complex skill our children need to learn, and turn-taking can help them begin to learn about patience and how sometimes they need to wait their turn. 

2. Takes Away the Toy’s Power

When we force our children to share their toys, it means we are constantly setting timers and telling them they have to give the other child a turn in X number of minutes. The problem with setting timers is that many children don’t actually understand the concept of time yet, and when the timer goes off, they will still be upset because they weren’t finished playing with the toy. If we give them the ability to choose when they are done with the toy and when they want to give the other child a turn, we are taking away the toy’s power, and we will begin to see less and less challenging behaviours around giving toys up. 

3. Allows the Child to Feel Good

Turn-taking allows the child with the toy to feel good about giving it to the other child, rather than feeling angry because they have to give it up before they’re finished playing with it.

“Lou, you wanted to play with your cars, but you noticed Anne wanted to play with the cars, too! You gave her a turn with one of your cars and played together. You both looked like you were having so much fun. That was cool to watch!” 

4. Children Learn You Don’t Always Get What You Want

Just like learning about patience, it’s also essential for our children to understand that they aren’t always going to get what they want. When our children are upset about not getting a turn right away, we can acknowledge their feelings while also letting them know that the other child is still playing with the toy, so they will have to wait until the other child is finished. 

5. Encourages Independence

When we use traditional responses to sharing, like timers and giving up the toy, children rely on us to answer them. When we model and encourage turn-taking with our children, they begin to do this independently and are well-equipped to resolve issues with their peers on their own!

How to Teach Turn-Taking

If you’ve gotten this far, you are probably ready to hear how you can start teaching turn-taking in your home. There are a few ways that we can do this: 

Practice, Model, and Encourage

One of the biggest things we can do to help our littles with taking turns is to practice with them, notice the good out loud, and model it. We want to try and focus as much time and energy as we can on the behaviours we want to see more of!

“Ah, Jamie! I noticed you giving Si a turn with your doll! Look at his face; he’s so happy you gave him a turn!”

“Hey, buddy! I loved how you asked your sister for a turn with the train and patiently waited until she was finished and gave it to you!”

Coach

In the actual moment when your multiple children are fighting over things, you can coach them through turn-taking. 

Here is an example of turn-taking between my four and 1-year-old: 

Emmy: “Moooom, Jules has the ball! I want the ball.”

Jules is holding the ball. She doesn’t talk yet, but she clearly wants to play with it.

Emmy: “Mom, she won’t give it to me.” Actively trying to take it from her.

I get on her level and say: “I see you want the ball, Emmy. You can ask Jules for a turn, and when she is done playing with it, you can have it.”

Emmy: Still angry, but asks Jules for a turn.

Me: “I noticed you asked her for a turn even though you were really angry. That was tough. I see that! Hopefully, you can find another toy, and soon enough, she will share it”. 

Fifteen seconds later, Jules moves on to another activity and no longer cares about the ball. Emmy grabs the ball and starts playing. 

The beautiful part of this turn-taking practice is that you quickly get into the same routine whenever your children fight over a toy. 

This will help them learn that you will say, “Have you asked for a turn,” and they also realize that giving their siblings a turn with the toys will hopefully mean the sibling will do the same thing for them down the road. You are essentially working your way out of a coaching job, and with consistent practice, soon enough, you’ll hear your child saying: “Hey, Emmy can I have a turn” all on their own! 

More Support for Sibling Struggles 

Our bestselling Parenting Little Kids course has an entire module dedicated to solving sibling struggles! Learn step-by-step tools for sharing, rivalry, hitting, adding a new baby, bickering, hurting each other, and really tricky days where no one gets along!

Explore Parenting Little Kids

WRITTEN BY

Paige Shiels

Early Childhood Educator

Learn More About Paige

WRITTEN BY

Jess VanderWier

Registered Psychotherapist & Mom of 3

Learn More About Jess
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Facebook