We want our children to learn to be more open-handed with toys and possessions, but that doesn’t always translate well among siblings. This mother asks is it ever okay for a child not to share toys with a sibling or friends.

Q: I have two daughters, ages 34 months and 4. I am seeing a trend with my four year old not wanting to play independently. She tries to take over whatever the youngest is playing with and wants the attention. I guess what I am asking is it ever okay not to share? Should we make the youngest share when she was contently and quietly playing until the older came? At this age, should they have separate toys or do you recommend that they have some things that are just theirs? Seems all is quiet until the big one pushed into the small ones play space.

A: It’s always tricky to balance between wanting your girls to play nicely together and giving each her own space to play independently. With girls so close in age, it can become even trickier because they often want to play with the same things. When my two daughters (close in age as well) were toddlers/preschoolers, I would let them work it out until one started squawking. In other words, if your younger daughter’s okay with the older one horning in on her play, then all is well. If Younger doesn’t want Older to play, you’ll hear it. Then you can separate the girls for a bit.

I’m not a fan of sharing across the board. I think each child should have a couple of toys they do not have to share—but they do have to keep those toys in a special place. For example, when my girls were a little older, they had American Girl dolls. But with two younger brothers, I told the girls they had to keep the dolls and accessories in their room. Their brothers were forbidden to go into their room, and I made sure the brothers obeyed that edict. That was a whole lot easier on everyone than having to keep track of their dolls and accessories all over the house and keep those toys away from the littles.

It’s always tricky to balance between wanting your girls to play nicely together and giving each her own space to play independently.

So your daughters can share most of their toys, but one shouldn’t have the right to take over unless the other one is agreeable. And one shouldn’t be forced to share special toys.

However, you should encourage more openness in playing than closedness, so talking on a regular basis about why sisters should share and play nicely together should be part of your communication with your daughters. Kids need these concepts repeated again and again in various ways, and reminding them of how they like to be treated (Golden Rule!) can be key to helping them understand the why behind the actions.