What does teach generosity? Researcher Nancy Eisenberg found that prosocial behaviour (“voluntary behavior that aims to help another”) develops when children have the experience of choosing to share and experiencing how good it makes them feel to be generous. Please note: this happens when children share of their own free will. You can help the process along by drawing their attention to the results of their actions: “Look at your sister! She’s so happy that you shared your toy with her!”
What about “turns”? A common suggestion is to make sure everyone gets a turn and you use a timer. “You can have it for 10 minutes, and then your brother gets it for 10 minutes.” That’s a bit better than arbitrarily deciding when their turn is over. But put yourself in their shoes: it would be really hard to relax, enjoy yourself, and do the work of childhood (play!) if you are hearing the seconds tick by. (Plus, do you really want to be in charge of that?!)
Try this instead: your child’s turn lasts until they are done playing. Period.
They can play with a toy as long as they want to. They can’t ‘reserve’ it for later, but as long as they are actively playing, their sibling has to wait.
Lots of parents ask me, “What about toys that belong to both of them?” Children should have some things that are JUST theirs and some things that belong to everyone in the family. If they have birthday presents and treasured possessions, for example, it’s okay if they NEVER let their sibling play with it. They’ll also need a place to keep their things where their sibling can’t get them, like a chest with a lock or a high shelf or drawer. Toys that belong to the family can be played with until a child is done with them, as I outlined above.
What about playdates? Let your child put away anything special that they don’t want to share. Anything that is left out is fair game. The ‘long turn’ rule doesn’t apply at playdates. They can take ‘short turns’ when friends are over. Be prepared to help them navigate this!
When your children get used to this new rule, they will appreciate the new “long turns” policy and know what to expect. If they still constantly and only want what their sibling is playing with? It’s not about the toy. (Actually it is very often not about the toy.) Are you doing Special Time with each child? Are you being Switzerland and finding Win/Win solutions? Has your child had a chance to get the “chip” off their shoulder?
Be prepared for big feelings! It can be VERY hard for the child whose turn it isn’t to wait. That’s okay! You are there to help them through their feelings. “Darling, I know! It’s so hard to wait! You want to play with the red truck so much! Brother will give it to you when he’s done.” Bonus: You are not only supporting your disappointed child in the moment but also building emotional resilience. When you are calm and welcome their difficult feelings, you are teaching them that they can handle anything.
This post is a bonus to a Stop Sibling Fights series. The first post is here.
Get your *free* ‘Stop Sibling Fights’ e-book HERE.
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 10, 14, and 17). Sarah helps parents become the parents they want to be- with a non-punitive, connection-based approach that that feels good and works. Sarah is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at www.sarahrosensweet.com or follow her on Facebook.