When you have kids who are two years apart, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to help them understand how to share. Both of our sons enjoy plaing with the same types of toys and we primarily share all of the toys in our house (with a few marked as “special” that are only to be used by one child).
Every child is different, of course, but what we have found to work the best for our kids is creating an environment where their desires are affirmed and their “yes-es” and “nos” are heard and honored.
What does this look like in practice? Well, for starters it means that anyone who is using a toy is allowed to continue using it until they feel like they are done. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We do not use timers to encourage them to give up their turns. We simply allow them to keep playing until they are done. Now this may sound totally crazy to you. You may think, “But won’t they just continue to hoard that one toy all day?” Well, no, they actually don’t. When they aren’t operating from a “fear of scarcity” kind of place, they don’t get too territorial. After all, they know that they are likely to get a turn later because their desires will be honored. Kids naturally have pretty short attention spans at these ages (3.5 and 1.5) and they rarely want to keep using one toy for more than a few minutes at a time.
Now, sometimes one kid will really want a turn and the other just isn’t done yet. We will sometimes gently remind the kid with the toy that they other is waiting. We will encourage the waiting kid to find something else to do and check back in a minute. And we will help the waiting kid find ways to ask that are more likely to persuade the toy-holder to give it up (using polite words, negotiating a trade, etc.). We help them learn that if they pester and beg and whine they aren’t likely to get a turn…they’re just likely to really annoy the other person.
And we help the kid who has the toy empathize with the waiter. We say things like, “Gosh, do you see your brother’s face? He looks like he really wants a turn. I wonder how much longer he’ll have to wait? I wonder how you would feel if you had been waiting for such a long time.”
We also have a firm “no snatching” rule. If a child takes a toy without asking, he is reminded that he has to ask and is invited to give the toy back. If he can’t give it back, we say, “can you give that toy back now or do you need me to help you?”
I have no idea if what we are doing will continue to work long-term, but it is working great for now. Our kids are able to communicate clearly with each other about their needs and neither of them gets terribly territorial about their stuff. I think that they are truly learning what it means to share because they are doing it voluntarily.