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Tips and hints to encourage your little one to take turns, with advice from a parenting expert

It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn, but sharing is a life skill children need to try to master before starting school.

From a very young age, little ones develop a sense of ownership over their toys and belongings. ‘Mine’ is a word most children learn pretty quickly as they begin to establish boundaries and work out the world around them. Parenting expert and founder of parenting blog, Thinking Parenting Anita Cleare says: “From around three years old, children start to interact more and create joint games together, with increasingly complex rules. They start learning to negotiate sharing and need lots of opportunities to socialise to practise these new skills. But they also need close supervision for when those negotiation skills break down.”

If your preschool child is finding sharing tricky, don’t despair – there are things you can do to help them learn. Here are our top tips:

1. Explain and empathise

At around the age of three or four, your child should start be able to see things from someone else’s point of view. Try getting them to empathise by saying something like: ‘How would you feel if your friends wouldn’t let you play with their toys?’ It’s also a good idea to try and explain that sharing can actually be fun as you get to play together with your friends. Anita says, “Sharing is actually quite a complex idea. Adults often struggle to agree on what constitutes fair shares of things like time and money, so we can’t expect young children to get it right all the time.”

2. Practice makes perfect

Try practising sharing with them – even if just small things like playing a board game where each player has a go or sharing an ice cream. Anita says, “While you are playing, use words like ‘your turn, my turn’ so they start to learn the words. Teach them a phrase to use (instead of snatching) if turn taking breaks down – something like ‘It’s my turn now’ or ‘Can I have a turn?’”

3. Lead by example

Make sure you show your preschooler how you share things with others so they can learn from you. Share a slice of cake with a friend, let your little one borrow your favourite pen or take it in turns to place building blocks on top of one another to create a tower.

4. Reward small achievements

Make sure you praise your little one when they share something – however small. That way they will soon realise that sharing things equals a big thumbs up from you. Praise and point out good sharing in others too.

5. Remember it’s normal

Not wanting to share is totally normal behaviour for a preschool child – by nature they’re very self-centred and are only just beginning to learn how to take others feelings into account. It’s important to try not to get cross if they snatch a toy back or refuse to share something. Don’t force them to share either – try putting the power in their hands by telling them that they don’t have to share but it would be really nice and grown up if they did.

6. Play date

If your little one is not great at sharing don’t avoid social contact with other kids. Exposing them to their peers is the best way for them to learn. Arrange regular play dates so they get used to playing nicely with other children. If there’s a particular toy your child has a special attachment too, try putting it away before a play date to avoid upset. Maybe see if their friend can bring a few toys so your little one isn’t the only one sharing and alternate where you have the play date.

7. Dealing with conflict

If a situation arises where your little one is refusing to share or has a friend that won’t give up a particular toy, try to encourage them to take it in turns for a set time – use your phone’s timer so they can see it’s fair. Or if that doesn’t work, try using distraction to avoid a meltdown. Get them engaged in another activity or ask them to help you with something. Anita says, “If children can’t take turns, remove the item that is causing problems for a few minutes, or remove the child from the game if it is only one child causing a problem. Ignore protests and tantrums.”

8. Nursery and preschool

Exposing your child to a nursery or pre-school setting can really help them develop social skills like sharing. Even if it’s only for a few hours a week, it will give them plenty of opportunity to witness sharing first hand and hopefully learn from their friends that sharing can be fun. Staff in these settings are very experienced in dealing with sharing issues and can help encourage your little one to take turns.

9. Sibling sharing

Sharing with a sibling can be the hardest lesson for your little one to learn, especially if they’re the eldest and have been used to having all the toys, and all of your attention to themselves. If there’s a new baby on the scene who is demanding a lot of your time or has decided to use your older child’s favourite toy as a teether, you might need a plan to help your first-born cope. Try and arrange in some regular one-on-one time with them, maybe while their younger sibling has a nap, and encourage them to donate a toy more suitable to be chomped on. Anita says, “Don’t forget to look after yourself. Constant bickering between siblings can tip the most saintly of us over the edge. It’s hard to be a calm, consistent parent when you are tired or stressed so find time to recharge regularly.”

10. Waiting game

Finally, Anita says it pays to be patient. “Sharing is a skill that has to be learnt and, just like learning to ride a bike, they will fall off quite a few times before they get it right.”

Is your preschooler struggling to share with your new baby? Check out our ideas for games they can play together.