How to Teach Children to Share

Image by CB and GK on FlickrYou know how hard it is to share when there is only one warm, gooey brownie left?  Or when you’ve worked and worked to buy your great new car and someone wants to take it for a spin?  We may overcome – or hide the last brownie – because we know sharing is an important aspect of being part of a family or society.

We have the ability to see beyond ourselves and recognize when it is appropriate to share our belongings, our resources, or our time.  How can we teach our children to do the same?  How do we teach children to share?

The most important thing to remember is that sharing is developmental, like walking, talking, and climbing up on kitchen cabinets and dumping out all the pots and pans.  If your child does not share, it doesn’t mean that he is spoiled, mean, or bratty.  It means that he’s 1, 2, 3… children do not develop reasoning skills until they are about 4.  So, when another kid takes his first teddy bear, he doesn’t know if he will ever get it back again or what will happen to the toy if it is not in his possession – even if it is in the same room with him.

Because of the self-centeredness of children at this age, toys are like an extension of him.  When someone takes the toy, or another child is allowed to play with it, it can feel like he is giving away an important part of himself, even if the toy is his least favorite or has been untouched in a closet for a month.

Sharing is just like walking in another way; children crawl and take wobbly steps, with support, before they are ready to take off on their own. You cannot force children to develop the ability to share, but you can certainly encourage and guide them.

  • Share.  The best way to teach a behavior is to model it.  If, for instance, you are holding a ball, you might say, “This is a really fun ball.  Would you like to share it with me?”  When someone else in your household shares, comment on it.  “Thank you, Daddy, for sharing your candy gift with me.”
  • Encourage “proto-sharing.”  It can be very difficult for a child to relinquish a toy, but often, they will hold it and allow you or another child to touch it.  This may not seem like much, but it is actually a big development and should be praised.  “Thank you for showing me your toy!”  Or, “Thank you for showing your brother/sister/friend your toy!”
  • Encourage your child to share a toy he isn’t playing with at the moment. This can still be difficult, but if he’s ready, you can say, “Can you pass Joe your car?”  If he is sufficiently occupied with his current toy, he may do this without argument. And if he does, praise him.
  • You may not want to share your shiny new car because it was expensive; you worked hard for it, etc.  Why expect your child to share his favorite or most treasured toys?  Tell him that he can keep special toys in his room when friends or family come to play.  It is important that he realize that everything else is to be shared.
  • Let his friends “discipline” him.  When he’s playing and does not share, you can be sure his playmates will let him know. This is part of learning how to socialize; you do not have to get involved with every squabble.  You will be surprised at how often kids can resolve these issues themselves.  If you do have to step in, don’t punish your child for not sharing. It would be like punishing him for not walking yet.  You can say, “I’m sad you didn’t share your toy with Joe” instead and let it go.

Expose your child to sharing, and praise him for any and all efforts.  He will get it; it is just a long process as he develops the right tools.  You can help by supporting and praising him.

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