As stated earlier, a child’s right to their personal property should be respected at all times, and you shouldn’t force a child to share their possessions or guilt-trip them for not doing so. Both of these tactics merely build up resentment and undermine the generosity which is the true goal of sharing: A child forced to share isn’t actually sharing at all. You can, however, encourage a child to share through positive forms of motivation.

A) Express faith in a child’s generosity
To the child wanting the item, say something like: “Try telling Sarah you want to use it next. She’s usually pretty good at sharing.” Then tell the other child, “Sarah, Melissa wants to use that when you’re done,” which conveys your expectation that she will share. This way you’re using positive messaging to lay out an expectation that the other child will share out of kindness. You’ve alleviated the power struggle (which is often more important than the toy itself) by posing a solution to the struggle as an affirmation of a child’s generosity rather than a command. In the meantime, take the other child’s hand and help her find something new to use. She, too, may forget all about it.

B) Promote the benefits of sharing
Help children see the potential benefits of sharing: “If you let Joshua borrow it this time, I bet Joshua would be willing to return the favor some other time with his own things, wouldn’t you Joshua?”

Another tactic is to appease to their desire to please: “I’m not going to make you share your toy, since it belongs to you and it’s your decision. But it sure does make me happy when you share.”

C) Set an example of gracious sharing
How often do you and your spouse or partner share property? All the time, right? Each of you probably have items you bought on an individual basis – Mom a new blender, Dad a set of screwdrivers, or vice versa. Set an example by making a point of vocalizing all the ways in which you share:

Dad: “Dear, could I use the blender that you bought to make some salsa?”

Mom: “Why yes, of course you can, just put it back where it belongs when you’re done.”

This may sound cheesy, but it works – especially with younger kids. Children really do mimic what they consistently see. If you can get in the habit of doing this, kids will too. It may take a few weeks before you start to see any results, but they will come. One day you’ll be sitting there and will overhear a conversation between your kids that mirrors what you and your spouse have been doing.

D) Promote bartering
You might try suggesting that the other child “rent” or “barter” the item in question in exchange for another favor, such as doing a chore, helping with something else, and so on. While not truly sharing, it nonetheless provides a model for quid pro quo between siblings and encourages kids to think about how bad they actually want something.