Leading by Example: Teaching Our Kids to Borrow & Share

We’ve all seen (and probably experienced!) it before: screaming fits and tantrums thrown by unhappy children who have just been asked to share their beloved toys.

Bickering back and forth between siblings over whose turn it is to choose a show.

Crocodile tears spilled over having to return greatly-loved books back to the library.

Learning the concepts of borrowing and sharing isn’t always easy or fun for children and their parents, but it’s a necessary step in a child’s development.

When it comes to teaching kids to borrow and share with good attitudes, it’s important for parents to start early and understand that the most powerful place to start is leading by example.

As our kids grow and develop they are looking to us to for guidance, and our words and behaviors are what will shape the standards of expectation they have for themselves and others.

When they see us setting a strong example of sharing, caring and helping within our communities the likelihood that they will follow in our footsteps is so much greater!

A Fresh Approach

No one is perfect – not even us parents! It’s important to remember that as you parent your children and to be honest about your mistakes and imperfections so they grow up holding themselves to a standard of grace over perfection.

Let them see you apologize for saying or doing things that weren’t the best as you seek to make things right.

This will build trust between you and your child, as well as show them what humility looks like in action. Doing so will better equip them to be teachable as they grow.

Instead of striving to be the perfect parent and turning every moment into a textbook learning opportunity for your child, we propose that you turn each moment into an opportunity to speak and act with purposeful intention.

As you go about your days, engage in conversations with your child that will help them begin to see what healthy sharing and borrowing looks like.

At The Sharing Exchange, we believe that not everything needs to be shared and it’s okay to teach kids to be discerning about what they are and are not comfortable sharing or lending.

In order for kids to develop a healthy appreciation for the place that sharing and borrowing can have in their lives and in the community, they should never be forced to share something they aren’t comfortable with sharing.

Successful sharing and borrowing requires cooperation, which is a building block of healthy relationships, trust and community.

If your child feels like you have both worked together to decide what and when to share, they will feel respected and valued, which will create positive emotions surrounding the idea of sharing and borrowing.

Consider Your Language

The language you use every day has a huge influence on how your child sees and thinks about things. They are like little sponges and work really hard to process and absorb all the language they hear each day.

The word “share” can be a tricky and abstract concept to a young child, so we recommend using the phrase “take a turn.”

Empowering children the the language skills necessary to be successful in social sharing situations is so important! Regularly work on incorporating phrases like, “I would like a turn,” “I am not finished yet,” or “May I please have a turn?” into your regularly vocabulary when communicating with both your children and others.

Equipping your children with the skills to negotiate will help build their self-esteem, which will lead to them feeling comfortable giving someone else a turn.

Consider Their Age

It’s important to take your child’s age into consideration as you work through teaching them about sharing and borrowing.

You should absolutely begin laying the groundwork at an early age, but don’t expect a 2 or 3 year old to consistently and willingly offer up their cherished toys anytime you ask. Give and take is very hard at this age, as they are just beginning to understand the concept of “mine vs. yours.”

It’s not until between the ages of 4 and 7 that kids really start to grasp the concepts of empathy, generosity and kindness.

Other Considerations

You’ll also want to take care to effectively communicate to your child that there are two different types of sharing: lending and giving. If you try to frame all sharing and borrowing as one in the same, your child may wind up confused and distrusting.

Lastly, we highly encourage you to begin practicing regular generosity if you don’t already do so. Make a big to-do about every time you practice generosity in your own life, inviting your child to see what you’ve done, why you made the choices you did and what kind of result it led to.

A child will give as he is given to. If your kiddo sees you being generous with your time, attention, affection and belongings, the chances are much greater that he or she will follow in your footsteps as they get older!

Some Ideas to Get You Started

If you’re ready to start getting intentional about how you’re teaching your children to borrow and share on a daily basis, here are a few practical, no-fuss ideas to help you get started.

1. Plan a trip to the library

Invite your kiddo out for a date to the library and let them choose a few books to borrow. When you go to check the books out ask the librarian to explain the “rules” to your child so the expectations are very clear that your child will be allowed to take the books home to enjoy, but he or she must take good care of them and return them within the allotted timeframe. When the due date arrives, invite your child to be the one who gets to return the borrowed items.

2. Invite your child to cook with you

As you both set about whipping up a family meal together, use language that encourages the idea of sharing. Examples: “Would you please pass me that measuring cup,” “Let’s share responsibilities. You can make the toast and I’ll butter the toast,” or “May I have a turn grating the cheese?”

3. Have a purge party with your child

Schedule some time to go through your child’s clothing or toys with him or her, and together decide which things should be kept and which ones are no longer needed.

Gather up the stuff that is no longer in use and either rent it out to a family in the neighborhood who could use it or donate to a local charity.

4. Set up a sharing playdate

Invite a few of your child’s friends over for a playdate and ask them to bring a few of their own toys to share. When everyone has arrived label each person’s toys so they don’t get confused.

Then, pull out a timer and explain that everyone gets to choose one toy to play with for 5-10 minutes and when the timer rings, it will be time to trade toys.

At the end of the party you might consider seeing if each child would like to take home a borrowed or rented toy to reiterate the concept of properly caring for borrowed items and returning them at a later date.

For San Diego parents, The Sharing Exchange is a great place to facilitate the borrowing/sharing/renting of toys within your community. At the end of your ‘sharing party’ take two minutes to list your toys on the online marketplace then swap renting with a friend. This way no one will forget whose is whose and will also help keep track of when it is due back!

Even if you set your rental price at $5, it shows your child that we are “borrowing” and it will be due back soon! Very similar to the checkout process at the library.

No matter what approach or methods you choose, always remember to approach teaching your children with understanding, patience and kindness.

Sharing is hard, so celebrate the successes and work together to create a caring and supportive home environment. Developing a healthy ability to share will only improve as your child finds success and has positive experiences!

When you focus on doing the right things yourself your child will learn through osmosis and be well on his or her way to being a generous, compassionate human being.

Ps: Have you taken our quiz, “What is your child’s play personality”? This is a great way to better understand how your child plays! We even offer a free guide with suggestions for different toys and activities curated specifically for your child’s play personality! Click here to take our quiz.