The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation

{The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation} How to ensure kids learn to do it on their own *Great tip
{The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation} How to ensure kids learn to do it on their own *Great tipDoes “sharing” often go sour at your house? Many of us have only been taught one part of the “Sharing Equation.” I know from reading 101 parenting articles that when my daughter comes to me tattling, “She won’t share,” that I needed to redirect her back to her sister. I ship her back into the situation with this scripted tattle-redirect:

“That’s so sad. It sounds like you’re talking to the wrong person, try talking to [name] instead.”

How often has this approach actually worked for you? We know kids need to resolve their own issues. We know we don’t want them relying on us to fix every problem that arises.

Yet, whenever I would try this approach, the kids’ conversation always fell flat.
The situation would escalate to yelling, pushing or even fighting.

My friend Emily, who is a teacher, gave me a priceless toddler tip on a family vacation. Our two strong-willed children had been continually arguing over a toy. She calmly walked the children through a guided interaction. My jaw dropped in amazement as the children (in my opinion at the time) magically came up with “terms of agreement” for the toy. The best part? Later in the week, I heard the kids successfully work through an argument without involving parents. Hot dog! Success.

Below we are going to discuss ways to successfully facilitate the second component of the Sharing Equation.
This is the simple statement that will turn your house around:

“How many minutes until I get a turn?”

In an ideal situation the conversation should go something like this (also see the “real-life” tips below):

Jimmy: Can I play with that?
Anna: No.
Jimmy: How many minutes until I get a turn?
Anna: Six.
Jimmy: Ok. (Walks away to tell mom or dad how long to set the timer for)

Why this works
Arguments are rarely about the toy, they are about control. Young children are constantly experimenting with ways to garner more control over their lives. Just think about how many directives we give them: when to eat, sleep, sit still … don’t touch this, do that. By refusing to share, the child is showcasing control over an item. By teaching your children to use this dialog, you’ll be offering both kids the opportunity for control.

  • Jimmy is giving Anna control. She gets to decide how many minutes. This gives the child with the toy a feeling of authority, so they are more willing to engage.
  • Jimmy is also asserting control over his own situation. He is no longer asking if he can play with the toy. His statement evolves to, “How many minutes until I get a turn?” This implies he will play with the toy and that he knows he deserves a turn.

{The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation} How to ensure kids learn to do it on their own *Great tip

How to teach your children this process

  • Offer guidance: The next time one of your kids comes to you and says, “Anna won’t let me play with that.” Use the re-direct statement above, but add an offer of help at the end, “That’s so sad. It sounds like you’re talking to the wrong person though. Would you like some help talking with her?”
  • Don’t get suckered in: When you walk over the other child is likely going to fly off the handle with some sort of explanation with the assumption they are in trouble. Don’t get involved in the details of the argument. Calmly reply, “Jimmy has something to say to you.”
  • Kick-start the convo: Look your child in the eyes and say, “Ask Anna how many minutes until you get a turn.” Your prompt might get Anna worked up again, keep your patience when asking her to be quiet. Again, encourage the child to ask the minutes question.
  • Guide the interaction: The first time a child asks, “How many minutes,” the other child might pick a crazy number like a million minutes. At that point step in and say, “What’s a better choice? Three or seven?” If they reply with a million again, don’t punish them for not participating in your little parenting experiment. Simply reply, “Three it is then. I’ll set the timer,” and walk way.
  • Be the time keeper: Set a timer on your phone or on the kitchen stove. When it goes off, give the child with the toy the opportunity to hand it over on their own. If they don’t react to the sound of the timer itself, make an observation rather than giving a directive, “Anna, I hear the timer.”

Here’s the key to this working long-term without your involvement:

You can tell the child what to say, but do NOT speak on their behalf.
The child MUST repeat the statement and assert themselves.

{The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation} How to ensure kids learn to do it on their own *Great tipReal life tips

  • You’ll probably need to facilitate the interaction a few times before you see the kids rolling with it on their own.
  • Children as young as two or three can use this process. The statement can be reduced to the simple question, “Minutes?”
  • If the child offers an inappropriate number of minutes the first few times you practice the interaction, offer them a choice between two appropriate time frames. If this behavior continues long-term though, start setting the time automatically to two minutes and say, “That is not an appropriate time. I’ll set the timer for two minutes since you didn’t make a choice.”
  • When dealing with toddlers keep the time frames smaller (2-5 minutes), younger kids can have a wider range (2-15 minutes), and older elementary kids can handle nearly any time frame (2-60+ minutes).
  • If the child still will not relinquish the toy upon hearing the timer, consider taking alternative measures, like a short break.

Redirecting children who tattle on their siblings or another child is only part of the Sharing Equation. When I look back, of course the conversations failed. I was asking children in a heated situation to calmly figure out a solution without giving them the tools (words) to do so. Everything is 20/20 in hindsight my friends.

Tattle Redirect + Minutes Statement = Happy Kids & Mom

If your kids respond in a way not addressed up above, let me know. Emily has used this approach with countless daycare toddlers and kindergartens over the years. It still works with my girls who are in elementary school. If you get stuck in a scenario you can’t resolve, leave a comment below and we’ll work through it together.

This post is dedicated to my friends (and fellow moms) Heidi & Emily. Heidi is an amazing mom who exhibits a calm sense of inner peace when managing the chaos of four children. The loving tone she showcases with her children is something I strive for on a daily basis. Emily is my mom go-to source when parenting seems to be getting the best of me. She’s introduced me to Love & Logic, this minute statement, and a million other things. Her years as a mom and as a teacher give her priceless experience. I am thankful to have both of these women as a part of my life. XO

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{Sharing Equation = Happy Kids & Mom} Forced sharing can escalate to yelling, pushing or even fighting. Use this simple tip/statement to get the kids to do it on their own. Kids Sharing Solution: Forced sharing can escalate to yelling, pushing or even fighting. Use this simple tip/statement to get the kids to do it on their own. *saving this for later




  1. Susie says

    When I catch my kids fighting over a toy, I’ve discovered that they’ll usually share if asked.

    D: M won’t share with me!
    Me: Did you ask her?
    D: Will you please share with me?
    M: Here you go!

    It helps that they ask in a sickly sweet voice, or occasionally a meow. The asking gives control, a choice to share, like your great tip.

  2. Shannon Marie Salter says

    We do something similar at our house. They must ask if they can have the toy/share the toy. If the answer is no they ask if they can have a turn when the other person is done. We don’t use minutes. I can see situations when it would be useful (when the child with the toy is continuing to ‘play’ with it just to spite the other) but I know that if I ask my husband to use the computer for 2 minutes to check my email I wouldn’t want him to cut me off in the middle of reading because I exceeded the time I chose.

  3. Mother of five says

    So, let me get this straight. If your child is playing contently with his own toy and my child decides he wants to take it from him, all he has to do is get a timer and his mommy, and your child has three minutes to hand it over. Sounds like bullying a small, helpless child to me. It teaches one child that he deserves to have anything he wants, no matter how anyone else feels about it. It teaches the other child that he doesn’t ever want to play with your child again. The other kid will get over it in a few minutes, but your child will wind up lonely and never understanding why no one wants to play with him. Sure, it is no fun to listen to a child throw a temper tantrum when they don’t get what they want. Sure, a two year old doesn’t understand that other people have feelings too. But it is our job to teach them these things. Sure it takes more work. Sure, it is not fun, but if we aren’t willing to teach our children how to control their tempers and how to treat others, we need to get out of the moment, and look down the road a little bit. It is easier to deal with a two year old’s temper tantrum than a spoiled rotten adult.

  4. SheBaz says

    Thank you both for your insight. in our home our goal is to support sharing while also respecting others whe they are busy with a you. I appreciate the redirect but also the method of choosing another you until the other child puts it back in its the toy back in its home. We also encourage telling the children to let the others know when they are done. We tend to use timers and “minutes” for transitions. I appreciate teaching children communication and autonomy. I am happy you found a way that works best for you guys.

  5. says

    I know this is an old article but so insightful. I LOVE this and will be trying it when nap time is over. I agree totally it is all about control and not about the toy and I love that you included that part in the post. With four young kids all the toys belong to all the kids. I do not expect them to share toys that do not belong to them when we are outside of our home but that it rarely an issue since they know what belongs to them and what doesn’t. UNTIL we adopted…at four she has no concept of ownership and hoards the “cool stuff” the how many minutes approach might just work. A lot to think about here! Thanks!

    By the way found you on Pinterest after a search on “timers for kids” :)

  6. says

    This one is getting passed around again, and I can see why, because the advice is simple and supportive, and the steps easy and plain. Thank you for making it so easy to follow.

    I disagree with a part of this, however. You say, “You can tell the child what to say, but do NOT speak on their behalf.” But you also suggest speaking on the child’s behalf when the number of minutes offered is “inappropriate” (too large) by an adult opinion, and arbitrarily choosing a small number on behalf of the child. What if the first child is needing a Long Turn with a toy — longer than just a few minutes? What if he’s saying “a million minutes” because he really wants 15 or 30 or three hours and doesn’t know how to estimate that time frame or say those numbers? If we’re really supporting children’s ability to make their own decisions, it shouldn’t be up to us to arbitrarily judge those decisions for them (assuming no one is being hurt/nothing is being damaged).

    If the child says “a million minutes,” I would be inclined to say something like; “Oh, that *is* a long time. You are needing some time with that toy. But the timer doesn’t go up to a million minutes. I can set it for xx minutes, so you can get a long turn, should we try that? XX minutes is the same as, from when we get to art class until when we leave. Is that the right amount of time, you think? ….. Now, [Other Child], [First Child] is needing a really long turn. What do you want to do while you are waiting for the minutes to be up? Can I help you get started with something new like……”

    Basically, my point is to honor a child’s need for a Long Turn, and to honor his choice of choosing some number of minutes that may actually exclude the second child entirely. Yes, it’s a practice of exerting power. And it supports executive function skills for both the kids.

    I love this approach in general, though. You spell it out in an easy to follow way.

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