Helping Children Share and Take Turns

All Pre-K and Preschool teachers deal with children who don’t understand what it means to share and take turns. Sometimes children will have different interpretations of what it means to share because of what their families have taught them. Sometimes children think sharing means another child is supposed to hand over whatever they want because “you’re supposed to share”.

Helping Children Share and Take Turns

This post is part of the Summer Book Study on Challenging Behaviors. If you are new to the Summer Book Study, you can find out all the information over at the Introductory post by Pre-K Pages.

Here are some helpful tips on helping children share and take turns that I have gathered from two books (Amazon affiliate links):

Tips for Teaching Children to Share

Read books to children about characters who are sharing (or not sharing). Talk about the emotions of the characters and ask children what the characters could do to solve their problem.

Point out good sharing and turn-taking when you see it to reinforce appropriate behaviors. Children may not be aware they are using good social skills. You might say, “Sharing the play dough scissors made you both happy.”

Use puppets and dolls to teach children about sharing. Reenact common behaviors or an issue you noticed children dealing with that day. Have a discussion and talk about what the puppets are doing and saying. Ask children, how did this puppet feel? How did the other puppet feel? What could they do? Usually, some children in the group will have a good solution, but there are times when the class is stumped and you may have to guide them.

Be a good model. Be sure you don’t repeat the child’s actions that caused the conflict in the first place. That might sound like a no-brainer, but I think sometimes we teachers actually do this because its a quick resolution and we get distracted by the multiple things going on in our classroom. For example, if a child takes a toy away from another, and you take the toy away from both children, you have repeated the child’s action. Both children are then angry and the opportunity to teach positive social skills is lost. Another example: if we see a child who grabs the markers for themselves, we might react by grabbing the markers and moving them to the middle of the table where everyone can reach. However, this imitates the child’s actions. Instead, ask the child to put them back in the middle.

Use a timer for popular items. This gives children a visual and helps them understand how turn-taking works. A sand timer is great because children can see the passage of time. Another idea is to mark the clock with a dry erase marker and tell children that when the long hand reaches the mark, it will be their turn.

Use a waiting list for popular areas of the room, such as computers or the sensory table. You can have children sign up for the sensory table by writing their name on a list or placing their photo name card in a pocket chart by the center. I’ve also used a list of names, and had children make a checkmark by their name when they had a turn. I usually do a waiting list for my sensory table when I first change it to something new, but I keep the same sensory table as long as children are interested so everyone gets to spend as much time there as they wish. After a few days, the waiting list is no longer necessary.

When you see a conflict, try not to jump in too soon. Give children a chance to resolve their own conflicts. Sometimes we hinder them from practicing interaction skills. Give children opportunities to practice on their own (just be sure you are teaching these skills at group time).

What to do if you need to intervene

Validate and label children’s emotions: “You are frustrated because you want ___.” Use neutral words, such as “You both want to use that firetruck.”

Talk children through the conflict:

  • “What are you going to do?”
  • “Tell me some ideas.”
  • “How could you solve this conflict?”

Offer children more than one solution so they can choose one by themselves.

Teachers often tell children to “use your words”, but we need to make sure children know what words to use. Teach them words they can use, such as “Ask Miya if you can use the pink cape when she’s done.”

Teach children common class language to use when they want a turn. This will help all children, especially ESOL and special needs children. Examples:

  • “I want to play alone right now.”
  • “Can I have a turn when you’re done?”
  • “Can I use this if I give it right back?”

Help the child focus on another activity while they wait for a turn.

Reasons some children may have more difficulty sharing than others

They may be accustomed to adults solving their problems. One study showed that children whose mothers closely monitored their play with peers at home were more likely to be hostile and aggressive at school because they had not learned the skills to resolve their own conflicts.

Empathy is difficult for children who experience severe distress in the home.

Be sure to check out these two books on behavior for more information on helping children share as well as other topics.

How to Participate in the Book Study

We want everyone to participate in the book study. You don’t need a blog, just add your comments in the comment section below this post. Please share your tips on ways you’ve helped children share and take turns. What ideas will you add next year?

Follow the Book Study using this Guide here at PreKinders, and read the Book Study FAQ at Pre-K Pages to answer any questions you may have about how the book study works.

The next post in the Challenging Behaviors Book Study will be at Pre-K Pages on July 7, 2014 (there will be a short break during the week of Independence Day).

Grad Credits

You can earn grad credits for following the book study! To register, go here to Course Registration, and read the Course Requirements here.

Book Study Links

As each post in the Book Study is published, a link will be added right here below:


  1. says

    Excellent tips and advice Karen- thank you so much for sharing with your readers! I completely agree that talking children through conflict is extremely helpful. We can’t just tell kids to do something without modeling and scaffolding for support. Asking them questions that will help them resolve conflict is a powerful skill that will help children be successful throughout their lives. My favorite quote from above was “Teachers often tell children to ‘use your words’, but we need to make sure children know what words to use.”

    The quote about mothers who closely monitored their children’s play was interesting. If children don’t learn to resolve conflict on their own and all choices are made for them, then what happens when they are older and their parents aren’t around to make those decisions for them?

  2. says

    You are right. Helping children develop skills to solve their own conflicts is so important. I have a friend who is great at this with her fours. She says: “We have a problem. You both want the fire truck (or whatever the issue is). What could we do about it?” She listens to the children’s suggestions. She offers those ideas back to the kids and they agree on what to do. For example, after a child suggests it, she says: “Julia says that both of you could drive the truck at the same time. You could both put your hand on it and drive it. What do you think of that idea?” She goes back and forth with ideas until both kids agree with a solution. Then they go do it. Kids begin to suggest ideas themselves after working through the process.

    I need to do a better job of helping kids know how to use their words. Thanks for the post, Karen!

  3. Karen says

    Thank you Karen for an excellent blog. Sharing is so hard! We spend a great deal of time helping children to understand what sharing is. Many of them will complain that someone is not sharing because they did not give them the desired object right when they asked for it. Play is such a wonderful way to introduce and reinforce social, emotional, and negotiating skills.

    • says

      That’s so true. Kids do often complain that someone’s not sharing just because they think the child is supposed to hand over whatever they want. I think its important for teachers to take the time to talk to children to find out what really is going in. Its often not what we think on our first impression. In a classroom full of kids (I have 22) its often difficult to take the time to talk through every conflict, but yet it is SO important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & joining our book study.

  4. Stacey says

    I especially agree with helping children problem solve through issues. Children can’t “use their words” if they don’t have words to use.
    I try to use the words “wait for a turn” and “take a turn” when it comes to toys or areas of the room. Sharing implies something that can be split–crackers, glue, paint, play dough. We take turns in the sensory table, using the baby bottle, reading a book, the red marker. Does that make sense?

    • says

      That totally makes sense, Stacey! I love the way you explained that. You’re right, sharing is about splitting things, and if it can’t be split, that’s taking turns! Why didn’t I think of that? That’s such a simple way to explain it to young children. Awesome! I will use that with my new crew this coming year.

      • Deb says

        Great way to explain the difference between turn taking and sharing. It made me think of another way of helping me help children who are struggling with sharing. I’m going to make a picture poster divided in 1/2 with the words “sharing” and “turn taking” written on it and pictures of kiddos either splitting something or turn turning with a toy. I will then lead the children who are having a conflict to the poster and we will discuss what can be done in their particular situation. i.e. can you split it? or can you take turns? Pictures are always good and it will help with the kids trying to remember what the difference is if they see it. Also, this will be good for my kids with special needs that need picture direction.

    • Maggie says

      Makes perfect sense! This will be a great help, and I can already think of charts/visual aids to help with this.

  5. Megan says

    I’ve never really thought about the fact that not all kids know what “use your words” mean and that they need to talk about how they are feeling. Depending on their home situation they aren’t always exposed to good models and taught what is the right way to do things. The other good point in here was that we have to remember to be a good model. I’m sure there is more than one time that I have repeated the action that caused the conflict in the first place. This is something that I need to remember to think about before I react no matter what the age of the child.

    • says

      I know have done that as well, without thinking about what I was doing. Often, as adults we think kids know the difference when we do something: we are the adult, they are the child. However, they mimic what we do because that’s how they learn. I remember once stepping on a snack box to crush it before throwing it in the trash, and a child who was watching me then took a puzzle box and did the very same thing, lol! They copy everything we do because they know we’re the models.

      • says

        Yes, it is so true that young children don’t always know what “words” are. I have a friend that tells a great story about how he told one of his students to “use his words” to solve a problem on the playground. The child nodded and walked away, but came running back with his hands held open asking, “Can I have some words please?” He thought words were an actual thing that the teacher could give him to barter with the other child! That is very eye opening- kids are so literal.

    • Michele says

      Yes, I agree, modeling is a very good first step toward teaching whether you are at the art table and someone needs a glue stick…you as a teacher can say “when I’m done and simply hand it to them after you finish what you are working on.” Many times children want things now and modeling waiting is so important as well. You could also say “When you are done, may I please have the gluestick” and wait for them. A bit of praise goes a long way and sticks like glue to young children as well. I would revisit the situation at large group and emphasize how the child shared when they were done.

      Sometimes its okay not to share as well when it is a special item that belongs to them and that should also be discussed as they learn life’s lingos. I know we have had non english speakers in our room who present a challenge as far as taking things so modeling and using visuals has been so very important.

  6. says

    This is fantastic. I think this is a HUGE issue in classrooms today. Many times I have kids that come into school who think that sharing means “give it to me”. We have to learn that sharing means many different things. (1) We both work together to complete a common goal. i.e.: build a bridge (2) I take a turn, then you take a turn. Ie: playing together with games or other toys (3) I have some, and you have some (equal parts) (4) You use it and then give it back when you are finished i.e.: getting a piece of tape (5) I have it for a time, then you have it for a time i.e.: timers All of this is SO much more in-depth then when a parent tells one child to “share” with his sibling.

    I also have my kids brainstorm ideas of ways to solve the age old “who goes first” idea. Then once we have a list, we create a poster and hang them around the room to remind the kiddos how to help decide. It is fun to see how different these signs are from year to year. Some times the kids are adamant the oldest, youngest, tallest, shortest and then sometimes they come up with flipping a coin or choosing a number or playing any minnie.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • says

      I love how you are helping your kids develop different strategies for who gets to go first by teaching them simple games and involving them in the decision-making process. In the classroom, the “who gets to go first” can often lead to tears of frustration and disappointment.

      In our classroom, we will sometimes set up a chart so kids can see “who is next” or by helping them talk through the process or even by playing simple games ourselves.

      I think the key is that each situation be individualized based on what the children will find helpful and meaningful in each situation. I always prefer that rather than setting classroom rules or guidelines that every situation must be handled in a specific way, that the children are taught a variety of strategies then given the opportunity to put their chosen (or learned) strategy into practice so that it is meaningful to them and continues to foster new skills in negotiation and problem solving.

  7. Patti says

    I like that you included reasons children may not know how to share. It is so much easier to address issues when you know the cause

  8. Terry says

    This was a good post and useful. I confess I’ve been guilty of imitating the not sharing it of frustration.
    We often have 4 year olds that come from an”only child” home or the are the oldest with a baby and up till our classroom haven’t actually learned the social skill.
    It’s helpful to explain the rules of taking turns and supply them with the words and skills.
    Thanks for the advice!

  9. Marissa says

    I learned the hard way a couple of years ago about the infamous phrase, ‘Use your words.’ I would wonder why the kids had a difficult time expressing the problem to me or to their peers. I realized they didn’t know what words to use and as soon as I provided examples I saw the kids grow with this! I never considered giving the kids these 2 phrases: “I want to play alone right now. and Can I use this if I give it right back?” Also, when first teaching kids how to share, giving them different choices so they can decide which route they want to take I feel will really help them out in truly learning how to share. I’m so excited to do this in my classroom next year and see how they grow and learn! :)

    • Michele says

      I love that you mentioned giving words and choices, 2 biggies to remember in early childhood. I love to watch young children solve their own issues and also using a visual sand timer for centers offers a speechless limit that creates boundaries for taking turns without a teacher’s assistance. I love it when they suggest it as well.
      thanks for the post…great strategies.

    • Nancy B says

      I teach pre-school in an low income urban area. My students do not have the vocabulary to ‘use their words’; so I begin the year with many ‘class meetings’ in which we model and role play what to do and say. I do not give them options at this time. I give them the exact words I expect to hear. Later in the year, we discuss other ways and words to use to solve the conflict.

      For instance: sharing
      During a class meeting-
      1. I begin a role play in which I grab an object away from Child 2.
      2. “Something is wrong. Could I have done that in a different way?”
      3. Model:
      a. Teacher: “May I have (object)?”
      Child 2: (If finished with object) ” Yes, you may.” and hands it over to me.
      b. Teacher: “May I have (object)?
      Child 2: (If not finished) “You may have it after me.”
      (Then we wait a few seconds)
      Child 2: “I am finished with it now.” and hands it over.
      4. Then the entire class practices by allowing pairs of children to role play the situation while the others watch. (Automaticity: over learning)

      We call this being a Peacemaker. We have a song about what peacemakers do.

      What I find is that all I have to do when a child comes to tattle or I see a situation developing is say something like, “Did you talk about it? ” or “What should you do? What do Peacemakers do?” This removes me and puts the resolution back on the students.

      95% of the time the problem is solved. I think the important thing to remember is that if the student is okay with the resolution then it is over. That is the way children work. They will be fighting one minute and friends the next. What we are teaching them is to stop, think and talk.

      • Claudia says

        Nancy, I loved your input. I teach in a catholic school and we talk a lot about being peacemakers, could you please share the song about peacemakers?
        Thank you

      • Leslie says

        Thank you, Nancy for your great ideas! I have a family daycare with children aged 1-5. We will be incorporating the roleplaying idea into our morning circle time when we start up again in September. I love the title Peacemakers – who doesn’t want to be known as a peacemaker! I am also hoping that you would please share your peacemaker song with us.

  10. says

    Great article. Especially agree with the importance of making sure kids know which words to use! I do a similar thing in my workshops on ‘position in space’ words – eg. ‘down’ has a completely different meaning when we are standing up than when we instruct a child to draw a line down on a piece of paper.
    My granddaughters often suggest we ‘draw straws’ to settle a sharing issue.

  11. Karen K says

    I run a licensed family child care in my home. I have ages from infant to 5 years old. It was rewarding reading your blog to know that I am doing some things right when the tattling begins. But I also learned that I am not completely following through to solve the problem. I have been frustrated when the tug of war begins with a certain item and I have taken it away from both. I never thought that I was adding to the problem! I am anxious to try your suggestions for what to do before it gets to the point of no return. Thank you all for offering this for those of us who care for young children, I can’t wait for the next lesson!!

  12. Robin says

    Love the verbiage of “taking turns” over sharing! The last couple go years I’ve had to deal with the phrase “sharing is caring and you’re not sharing so you’re not caring”. I actually had a boy cry over this because this is what he always heard at home. I found I needed to have a meeting with parents and talk about “waiting and taking turns” and not expecting to get something immediately when you asked for it.
    I’ve used puppets, role modeling BUT. I’ll admit I’ve also taking things away saying “let me know when you’ve decided who gets it first. I don’t always follow thru to make sure the give and take conversation happens and that both parties agree to the solution. Need to work on that more

    Curious: When working with a small group or engage with other students. Do you leave those children to handle a conflict, after skills have been taught and reviewed, or what? I’ll admit there have been times I’ve taking the easy way out and have both children leave a center so I can continue working with group I’m currently with. And how do you handle the child who van tell you what to do, even tell other children what to do, but can’t do it for himself?

    Thanks for a great discussion.

    • says

      I try not to leave my small group. If I have children who just cannot work something out on their own and they are disrupting the whole class, then I would probably redirect them, and then pull them aside later to have them tell both sides and talk it through. My rule is no interruptions during small group.

      There are often children who can tell others what to do, but not do it themselves. That’s part of the process of learning self-regulation. Applying rules to others comes before applying it to themselves. That’s why children tattle.

      Thanks for joining our book study, Robin!

  13. Karin says

    I like the phrases you give: You are frustrated because…, What are you going to do?, Tell me some ideas, How could you solve this? All of these would help a child be able to put feelings into words and then be able to process the feelings and come up with a plan of action.

    I also like how you suggest to offer more than one solution. Something I definitely need to work on!

  14. Mary B. says

    When children come to me and say he or she is not sharing I recognize immediately that they need words and I often say: ask __________ if you can have a turn when he or she is finished playing with __________. The child with the toy often just gives the toy to the person who practiced using those words . I wonder, even when I ask the child if he or she was finished playing with the toy, if they really were? I am now tempted to ask the children in group to watch the sharing conflict resolved (modeled) what their impression is. Preteaching the concept also sounds like a very positive suggestion to try.

    • says

      That’s a great phrase because the child asking is not saying “give it now”, but “when you’re finished”. I know what you mean, though. I’ve seen children do the same thing. I usually ask them if they were really finished, but most often they don’t seem to care. Usually if a child demands a toy from another, that’s what starts a conflict. If a child politely asks for it, they just give it away and move on to something else.

    • katie says

      I also use the phrase “can I have it when you are done” in my classroom and just as Mary B says, the children usually give the material right to the child asking. If not, once trained, the children are very responsible to making sure the right person gets the toy next.

      As far as sharing. . . in the classroom I will break up the children into small groups to do a fun activity (like building with blocks, painting, etc) and have them complete as a group. Then I will post their work somewhere in the classroom (sometimes I will need to take a picture). This makes the children so proud of their work and shows them what they can do working with someone else. Sometimes a simple “chore” like this makes new pathways to friendships also.

      • Michele says

        Hi. I love that you post a picture of their teamwork and I’ll bet they do too! We take family pictures at the beginning of the year and leave them up all year. They never tire of looking at them. What a beautiful thing to celebrate teamwork in a photo.
        On a side note, have you ever heard of the Marshmallow Challenge? It is a fun teambuilding game for the workplace or anywhere. It illustrates who will take initiative, who will stand back and wait and who will dive in. It reminds me of what we learn by observing children in teams as well. Good post!

  15. Marsha says

    I have noticed only children have a lot harder time sharing a toy then children with siblings close to their age because they don’t really have to share their toys with anyone. So when they come to preschool or daycare they think everything belongs to them. Before the day starts we talk about sharing. I will put 6 toys in the middle of the rug. Then I will tell them they are going to be able to pick one toy. They will get to play with that toy for 10 min. Then we are going to put them back in the middle and someone else will pick the toy you were playing with, that is called sharing we will do that until everyone gets a turn. After everyone has a turn we go back to the rug and talk again about sharing. I will ask them if they know what sharing mean and someone will always come up with taking turns. I will tell them that is correct and if we share everyone is happy because they got to play with the toy you were playing with too. Until they get the hang of it I usually will set a timer for 10 min. When it goes off they know it is someone else’s turn. Usually within 2 weeks no longer need the timer . If someone asks if they can play with a toy they usually are pretty good about giving it up and will ask if they can play with the other toy. Very seldom do I have to intervene.

  16. Deneen Lambert says

    I like the suggestions and the questions. How do u handle this problem when the child speaks no English and will not listen?

    • says

      That’s a great question. I would probably teach them some hand gestures, such as pointing to themselves and pointing to the toy they want, and teach them a simple phrase, such as “I want that” or “please share that”. I would at the same time teach the other children in the room that this is how the child will show them he/she is asking them to share. I think it would take extra modeling and shadowing the ELL child.

    • says

      I agree with Karen, adding hand gestures and scaffolding for support with short phrases works well. Young ELLs are still learning the language and will need more time and patience when learning how to share and take turns. Picture cues are also great tools to use. It’s not that they won’t listen, they are still learning the language.

      • Michele says

        I love our young ELL students. They are so wonderful to observe and work with. This year we had a child from India who spoke to one of our Hispanic children and somehow they communicated beautifully as they role played that he was the papa and she the mama using gestures, props and simple language.

  17. Shannon says

    Hi Karen, Thanks for a great post. You mentioned reading aloud books that mention sharing. Do you have a list of favorite read-alouds that you use in your classroom to talk about sharing? Thanks!

  18. Joy Lindgren says

    Thank you for the helpful information. I find that puppets help best when teaching conflict with young children. Allowing a child to see the interaction opens their mind to the reality of the situation. My classes have loved when the puppets interact with my class (i.e. asking them questions). I enjoy this part of the interactions because I can listen to my student responses to grasp what they have learned and what I need to continue to teach. Modeling kindness is another way to express taking turns. Children are drawn towards a positive atmosphere.

  19. Melissa says

    We have a class of 22 and sometimes we will have a problem with people “sharing friends” and hurt feelings… We encourage everyone to play with each other, but… some children gravitate to each other and have more fun with each other. We encourage “everyone can play together ” in pre-school, but do you have any ideas on how you handle this in your classrooms.

  20. Jocelyn says

    Thank you so much for covering this area. Last year I noticed a lot of trouble with sharing. We would ask the children what they could do to resolve the problem and generally they would come up with an appropriate answer. I agree that adults are too quick to jump in to solve the problem. By offering the children the opportunity to figure it out for themselves gives them a sense of empowerment. They realize that they can solve problems for themselves. I also loved the idea of using a sand timer. I would use the clock but then I would have to keep track.

  21. says

    I found this post very helpful, even though I’ve been teaching a long time! It’s always good to have reminders. Also, I really liked the way you pointed out that we need to go beyond “use your words” to help children learn the right words to say – what seems obvious to us is often far from obvious to young children! Good point about empathy too – if they haven’t experienced much of it at home we need to take that into consideration. Thanks again for a really good post!

  22. Kathy O. says

    Thanks for the book study. I love the idea of discussing a topic and hearing ideas from other teachers. I will always learn something new or get a different perspective on a situation that I hadn’t thought of before. Even after teaching for 18 years I am always looking for ways to do things different with the students. I especially liked the idea of explaining that sharing and taking turns are different and giving examples of what that looks like. I also liked the idea on how to decide “who goes first” in groups. This past school year we had a hard time with that issue. Thanks!

    • Michele says

      I agree Kathy, that large group time is an important time to model sharing and behaviors as well as, set expectations. In the book “Parenting with Love and Logic” they elude to the cause and effect strategy, making the point that “everything we fix for our kids, our kids will be unable to fix for themselves.” (p.54) So if we stand back and observe children working things out independently, they will learn to solve problems for themselves. If we step in before giving them an opportunity to solve their own issues, we are creating a disbelief for the child, that they cannot solve the problem themselves. A flower unfolds by itself to the sun, if left undisturbed, but someone first had to plant the seed.

  23. kidtown usa says

    Really helpful post. I am impress with the idea of discussing a topic and hearing ideas from other teachers. It is another way to express taking turns. Kids are drawn towards a positive atmosphere. Thanks for discussing with us!

  24. says

    So many great tips here! I love how you talked about teachers not repeating the actions themselves. I know I have done that many times before — taken away a toy that was being fought over. Instead of doing that, using the conflict as a teaching moment goes a long way! I’m a big believer in modeling and talking through differences, too, as you suggested. So many great tips to use in preschool this year. :)

  25. Andrea Seigler says

    Thank You for all of the great ideas I am looking forward to using them and sharing them with the teachers that I work with
    I love the comment about the difference between sharing (something that can be split) and taking turns. I am going to try to make a chart showing the difference, I believe it will be a great visual aid for Special Needs students and ESL students.
    Again thank you Karen and everyone for the suggestions and comments.

  26. Shelley K. says

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments! Such a wealth of knowledge is shared when we collaborate! I’m so glad all the posts are in one place. Easy to refer to for future reference. So many ideas to use for the new school year.

    Intentional practices in which we remember to embed
    Social and Emotional skills development into the lesson plan has to be a priority.

  27. Lynn says

    This reinforces what I already do with my Toddlers. We have to give them the words, or “break it down “for them.

  28. Jennifer says

    Thank you so much for this lesson and discussion. Love expanding my mind and knowledge and making my classroom even better for this next school year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *