Tips for Getting Kids, Spouses and Employees to Share

It often strikes me that children, spouses and employees act in surprisingly similar fashion when it comes to sharing. More accurately, when it comes to not sharing. Whether toys, money, responsibility or attention need to be divvied up, sometimes we're all children deep down. So how can we help our loved ones and co-workers discover the wisdom of sharing? Here goes.

1. Let them duke it out. Too often, we intervene too early and prevent people, even little people, from learning valuable lessons on their own. Toddlers can sometimes find the right compromise if parents step back. Ditto for competitive co-workers.

2. Make them take turns. Set a schedule for a favorite toy, seat next to mom, etc. With co-workers, it's time, attention and prized/hated jobs that need to be alternated.

3. Be fair and don't take sides. It's nearly impossible for anyone, of any age, to play fair in the sandbox in the shadow of blatant favoritism.

4. Be generous with the scarce resource. Figure out what the real fight is over. I once saw my children fight over a dirty dishrag -- proof that something else was at stake. If it's love and attention, make it clear there is enough to go around. At work, it's often public praise and recognition of each person's unique ability to contribute to the organization that's needed.

5. Make them execute a project together without you. Last week, I sent my two oldest children off to Kung Fu Panda alone. They had to walk to theater, buy tickets and popcorn and walk home together without me to keep the peace. As they left the house, I said, "If this works, you get to go to the movies together again." I also once had two managers, vying for the next promotion, work together on a complicated cost-saving plan. Zero fighting.

6. Don't sink to their level. Don't take credit for someone else's work or success. Make sure you set a good example.

7. Secretly tape record them fighting and play it back. (I've never actually done this, at work or home, but bet it would work.)

8. Share your toys. Let employees give part of an important presentation or give your co-worker the holiday basket from your biggest vendor. Do your spouse's most hated chore for a change.

9. Praise good sharing -- if you catch your kids or co-workers sharing, make a big deal of it. Compliment someone else who readily shares credit with others. In my family, I give kids an extra dessert serving or another small reward when they practice good sharing.

10. Make it fun. Gotta share chores? Fill a squirt gun from a solution of a gallon of water and a drop of dish soap. Let kids squirt windows and mirrors and wipe dry with paper towels. The work version, of course, is the employee picnic or off-site. Fun works.

What's worked for you, at home or work? Do you have good stories about times you or someone around you refused to share, no matter the cost? How did you resolve it?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Top Ten Tips
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This calls for a song!

Posted by: Songster | June 16, 2008 8:10 AM

Here is a snappy little ditty to get into your head all day!

(you know the tune!)

Captain: Are you ready chorus?
Chorus: Aye, aye, captain!
Captain: I said are you ready?
Chorus: Aye, aye captain!
Captain: I can't hear you!
Captain: O, who never gives me a raise that I sorely do need?
Chorus: SpouseKid BossBoss
Captain: Dirty and unorganized and cheap is she!
Chorus: SpouseKid BossBoss
Captain: In the washer she can't even put a dish
Chorus: SpouseKid BossBoss
Captain: Then divorce and quit, maybe you'll get what you wish!
Chorus: SpouseKid BossBoss
Chorus: SpouseKid BossBoss
All: SpouseKid BossBoss
Captain: SpouseKid BossBoss
Captain: Hahahahahahahha!

Posted by: Songster | June 16, 2008 8:22 AM

Very good tips. The one on recording is funny to me. My dad did this after my mom went back to work. He never played it to us but he said he used it to know who was really instigating things around the house. Then again, maybe it was a bluff to make everyone behave! At work I find it important for a supervisor to really know how to delegate. After an employee shows their capabilities, they should be praised to reinforce that they are valuable. Interestingly, there was an article last week showing that employees who perceived their bosses and organizations as fair were happy to come to work and didn't burn out whereas the ones who perceived their bosses and organizations as unfair became bitter and burned out. I think my supervisor does a great job at sharing the wealth, so to speak, and as a result, I'm happy to come to work!

Posted by: FloridaChick | June 16, 2008 9:16 AM

My nemesis at work and I were supposed to teach nursing students in the hospital two days a week. She volunteered to assume part of my teaching load, on the condition that the additional administrator hired to help us both would belong to her alone. I had no choice but to agree, because my nemesis is the boss's best friend. I kept most of my own students, and all of my previous responsibilities with no help. It all backfired when the administrator's hiring was delayed because of my nemesis's further actions, and she had to handle all of her own students and some of mine, without the new administrator. I guess she shouldn't have been greedy about having that new person all to herself...

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 9:20 AM

For babsy!

Alternative lyric to

Captain: Then divorce and quit, maybe you'll get what you wish!


Captain, Be careful of what ye ask for, ye may get what ye wish!

Posted by: Songster | June 16, 2008 9:28 AM

Amen to that brother! Wishes are so often two-edged swords, don't you think? The law of unintended consequences can be vicious.

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 9:36 AM

Can't wait for my toddler to learn how to share

Posted by: Ishgebibble | June 16, 2008 9:46 AM

I'm with Leslie's #1 let them duke it out style. I don't think it is possible to teach a child under 5 to share.

Posted by: DandyLion | June 16, 2008 9:48 AM

Of course it is possible to get a kid to share. Only buy one of an item. Take it away if they don't share. For example, I only bought one Gameboy (actually, I bought it and said it was mine). If they wanted to use it, they had to share it. They learned to share it quickly. They also learned to get really mad at those kids who had eveything but never shared. methinks there is something causal here.

Posted by: dotted | June 16, 2008 10:09 AM

I agree, dotted. We taught our kids to share at home, and it was reinforced by most of our relatives as well as our kids' care providers. The dogs reinforced sharing from an early age, too. If it was a soft, fuzzy toy on the floor, the dogs assumed it was theirs, chewed on it for awhile, then let our toddlers share it.

In our experience, kids without any significant experience with camps or other non-related kid environments, sometimes (depending on their parents' attitude toward sharing - see Dandy's comment above, LOL) are a short-term source of trouble with sharing, but they come around if exposed consistently to that expectation, even if it's only for a week at Vacation Bible School or some other non-parentally-controlled environment. If not, they come around by the end of kindergarten because they simply must.

Posted by: MN | June 16, 2008 10:21 AM

I think #9 is the most critical. I remember when my son was just turning two that I told him I was going to share my treat with him. He heard the word "share" and grabbed something and ran in the opposite direction.

I realized at that point that although my husband and I DO share, we'd mostly USED the word at playgroups and he'd learned to interpret it as "about to lose favoured item." Since then we've been way more explicit in our modelling and I think it does help.

Posted by: Shandra | June 16, 2008 10:37 AM

I've got my girls *sharing* the task of loading the dishes in the dishwasher in the evening. I left it up to them whether to take turns or work together. So far, they've opted to work together which means one nags the other about getting it done and I don't have to! I love it.
I've had less luck with colleagues -- tried to divy up a particularly tedious task at work last summer with a couple of our aides and they dragged their feet so badly, I would have done better just to do it myself. Not sure what to do now that this same task is looming again this year.

Posted by: anne | June 16, 2008 11:00 AM

MN, I've seen a lot of incidences where parents are "teaching" their children to share by either punishing them for not doing so or otherwise bulleying them into the result desired by the authority figure. To me, bulleying is different than teaching.

I think that a child has to reach a certain level of maturity before they can even understand the underlying concepts of sharing such as ownership and property rights. If you can teach this to a 4 year old, great! But too many times, I've heard a child come crying to mommy, "so-and-so isn't sharing". Then mommy stops what she is doing to "correct" the offender. By following my theory of 4 and under aren't really capable of being taught to share, I've never had to put up with this kind of behavior. I have seen many other parents, though, fall into the judge, jury, and jailer trap. Not for me. Not my style.

Having said that, I do realize that there are many toys that are naturally shareable, like the seesaw, which a child quickly learns that it doesn't work unless he has someone to share it with. I know that children will also naturally cooperate with one another. For instance, my kids rarely, if ever, fight over what movie to watch. I never taught them or had to dictate a fair solution, but somehow they learned it on their own.

Posted by: DandyLion | June 16, 2008 11:12 AM

I can't speak to children, but I see lots of the "grab it and run in the opposite direction" behavior in the adults with whom I work. There's also a great deal of foot dragging. I handle that by setting quick turn-around times, and following up with frequent reminders. It's a bit more work for me in the short term, but the long-term outcomes are people who learn that fast work means less nagging from a real nagging artist.

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 11:24 AM

babsy1: Setting a deadline may make all the difference in my case -- thanks for the idea.

Posted by: anne | June 16, 2008 11:28 AM

Anne, no matter when things are due, I sent a one-week deadline. I confirm it during the initial meeting, and I follow up with an email after the meeting. Depending on the project, I put reminders in my own schedule, and that keeps things on track. It's a little obsessive, but it works, and the reminders only take a few minutes of my time.

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 11:41 AM

i think even children as young as 4 can understand sharing & taking turns. since my son is an only child he doesn't have to share that much but we do try to stress that the family is a team & everything we do is to try & help the team even if our jobs are different.

Posted by: quark | June 16, 2008 12:26 PM

"I don't think it is possible to teach a child under 5 to share."

I've gotta disagree. My 2.5 year old and I belong to a playgroup, and the vast majority of those kids grasp sharing just fine. Sometimes they don't want to, and I'm not going to pretend there aren't some tug-of-wars and screaming matches, but overall, they're really good about it. The moms in the group have put a lot of energy into teaching the kids to play well together, and it's definitely paying off.

Kids that age may not understand the emotions and reasons behind sharing, but they do understand taking turns and they seem to have an inherent sense of fairness.

Posted by: NewSAHM | June 16, 2008 12:38 PM

I have three kids -- the oldest is 4. The older two are great at sharing and do so usually without parental involvement (they are teaching the baby). They understand the rules and when they start to fight over a toy one of them will propose a sharing plan and the other usually goes for it. They know they have to take turns picking tv shows and sitting next to Mom at dinner so they just usually ask me who had the last turn. They go to daycare so they have the same expectations whether at school or at home. We don't tolerate hitting or other physical behavior and we don't let them talk with what our 2 year old calls a "mean mouth." As a result, we know they will usually reach some compromise because about the only other option is Mom/Dad will take the coveted item and no one will get it.

When one comes to me with a complaint about the other my response is usually -- don't tell me, tell him/her that you don't like it or figure out another solution. As a result, I don't get dragging into much squabbling.

We also try to make sure we give praise when we catch them sharing/behaving without having to be reminded. When we leave a restaurant, play date etc we are quick to tell them we're proud of them for their great behavior with specific examples and we explain that we can do so many fun things as a family because they behave so well. We also regularly and subtly remind them how lucky they are to have such great siblings and what a great team they make.

While I am admittedly biased about what great kids we have, we do get a lot of compliments from the teachers at daycare, other parents, and random people in restaurants and stores about how great and well behaved our kids are. With 3 kids born in less then 3 years and 2 working parents we don't have the luxury of doing it any other way.

Posted by: Fedmom | June 16, 2008 12:43 PM

Fredmom, how come your family never sits next me in restaurants?

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 1:13 PM

DL - what that kid is doing when they say "that kid isn't sharing" is manipulating their parent. Plain and simple. Recognize it for what it is. If a kid can learn manipulation, a kid can learn sharing. And what should a parent do when their kid is the one manipulating? Tell their kid to find someone or something else to play with...but don't get involved. They can't win if you don't play the game.

Posted by: dotted | June 16, 2008 1:32 PM

@Fedmom: ditto what babys1 said. ;-) Although my mom and I had a similar experience with a family with 4 kids while on vacation in Jamaica a few years ago - dining in the same restaurant with their kids was an absolute pleasure.

Posted by: Kate | June 16, 2008 1:39 PM

dotted: so true about manipulation - I think DL's hands-off approach can lend itself to not being sucked into the manipulation.

Posted by: Kate | June 16, 2008 1:47 PM

To me, bulleying is different than teaching.

By following my theory of 4 and under aren't really capable of being taught to share, I've never had to put up with this kind of behavior.

Posted by: DandyLion | June 16, 2008 11:12 AM

Kids that age may not understand the emotions and reasons behind sharing, but they do understand taking turns and they seem to have an inherent sense of fairness.

Posted by: NewSAHM | June 16, 2008 12:38 PM

Bingo, NewSAHM. Teaching sharing is not about eliminating unfun experiences from the parent's life, it's about producing a kid with whom other kids (including cousins) want to play. Taking turns is nothing more than good manners writ small. A child can, and should, be taught between 2 and 5 that the world involves more people than him/her. Learning to share pleasantly, and that taking turns means you'll get that cool toy back as soon as they other's turn ends, means learning that you will live if you don't get what you want all the time, every time, right this minute.

No one wants the kid who doesn't know how to share to come over for a playdate. They are a nightmare to host. Actually, they are even more awful at their own homes with their own toys than they are when they visit.

Posted by: MN | June 16, 2008 1:59 PM

is everyone watching the final round of the US open? They aren't here at least.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2008 2:52 PM

The course is just outside my office - Tiger is down one, on the 17th hole. Please God, let it be over before my commute home, which was a nightmare on Friday!

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 3:46 PM

It's Tiger's win

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2008 4:29 PM

Well I am polyamorous, which means my relationships are based on the expectation that we are all free to form whatever types of relationships we want with whoever we want. So sharing has to pretty much be in my blood in order for it to work out.

For me there are a few tricks:
1) KNOW and STICK TO my boundaries. I can't be secure in sharing myself or others if I'm not secure in who I am. I need to form relationships with people who will respect my needs and support me in getting them. Ultimately being selfish is one of the most important aspects in being able to share effectively.

2) The point is that everyone will support the others at any one point in time. The good part about having a support structure is that if one person is down, the group can all help support them. Then, when you're down, they help support you. It's a group dynamic operating between individuals.

3) Recognize that I don't get to own other people. Their values are not mine and how they operate within them may not be my choices. If I choose to be involved with them, it's my responsibility to know and accept that.

Personally I think parents force too much sharing in general when they don't know how to really let go or teach more complex arrangements. There also needs to be real life positive consequences to sharing, if a kid doesn't experience those, then there's no incentive to keep doing it.

Posted by: Liz D | June 16, 2008 5:08 PM

Dotted -- Your advice is short and sweet. If they don't share, take the toy away.

Remarkable how dumb we parents can be sometimes. So much better not to overthink these things!

Posted by: Leslie | June 16, 2008 6:38 PM

I used to use the take-it-away-if-they-don't-share-it strategy. Learned it from my parents. Then a friend pointed out that he used to deliberately provoke fights with his younger sister over something of hers so their mother would take it away from her. And it dawned on me that my next-younger sister had done the same thing to me when we were kids.

I was never devious enough to think of it myself, or figure out what my sister was doing. But younger son would have figured it out, and older son would have suffered his brother's manipulations - just like his socially-challenged mother that way - without figuring them out or learning to counter-act them.

Time to come up with a different strategy that didn't put one kid at a disadvantage to the other.

Posted by: Sue | June 16, 2008 7:13 PM

i hate arguments...which is why I was never, and will never, be a lawyer. I like short and simple solutions... engineering has its priviledges, I guess. The KISS philosophy rules!

I'm joshing with you, Leslie. I'm joshing.

Posted by: dotted | June 16, 2008 8:09 PM

I think it's a good thing I have no kids. I could never come up with the strategies you all do. My method (honed from my Navy days, when I was known as the "little tyrant") would be brute force. Probably not the best tactic with children (although it worked very well with ensigns...).

Posted by: babsy1 | June 16, 2008 9:59 PM

babsy1 - learning what DDO is an important lesson for children as well as military. Never underestimate the power of simplicity (which, in essence, is what DDO is all about)

Posted by: dotted | June 16, 2008 10:26 PM

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Posted by: derek | June 18, 2008 4:52 AM


Posted by: jhg | June 18, 2008 5:01 AM

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