Learning to share can be a challenge for young children, but sharing is a skill they need for play and learning throughout childhood. You can help your child learn to share by giving her plenty of time and opportunities to practise. Praise and encouragement for good sharing will help too.
Why sharing is important
Sharing is a vital life skill. It’s something toddlers and children need to learn to make and keep friends and play cooperatively.
Once your child starts having playdates and going to child care, pre-school or kindergarten, he’ll need to be able to share with others.
Sharing teaches children about compromise. They learn that if we give a little to others, we can get some of what we want as well. Children who share also learn how to take turns and negotiate, and how to cope with disappointment. These are all really important life skills.
Helping your child learn about sharing
Children learn a lot from just watching what their parents do. When you model good sharing and turn-taking in your family, it gives your children a great example to follow.
Children also need opportunities to learn about and practise sharing. Here are some ways to encourage sharing in everyday life:
Although it’s important to share, there are some toys that children can keep for themselves. It’s a good idea to put away these special toys when other children come to play at your house. This can help you avoid problems with sharing.
When your child won’t share
Sharing can be a challenge, especially at first. Most children need practice and support to develop this skill.
If your child doesn’t share well, you can try practising together at home and talking about what you’re doing. For example, ‘Let’s share this banana. You can have some, and I can have some’.
Another strategy is to stay nearby when your child plays with others, encouraging him so he doesn’t forget to share.
There’s no reason to avoid playdates if your child has trouble sharing. Instead, use them as a chance to help your child practise. When she does try to share, you can say exactly what she did well and how proud you are.
Consequences for not sharing
It can help to create consequences when children don’t share. For instance, if siblings are fighting over a toy and not sharing, a reasonable consequence might be to take away the toy from both of them for a short period of time.
When you use consequences for not sharing, it’s important that the consequences relate to the thing that’s being shared – or not shared! For example, if children aren’t sharing a toy train, you might take the train away. Neither child can play with the train, so this feels fair to both. It can also get your children thinking about what they need to do if they want to play with their toy together.
When you think they’re ready, you can give the toy back so your children get another chance to show they can share.
Sharing at different ages
Your toddler probably doesn’t have an understanding of what sharing is. In general, toddlers believe they’re the centre of the world and that everything belongs to them. So consequences for not sharing aren’t likely to help your toddler learn to share. Encouragement and practice are likely to bring better results.
By age three, many children will start to understand the concept of turn-taking. But they might still throw a tantrum if another child takes a toy that they want.
When another child has something your toddler really wants, your child will probably find it very hard to wait his turn. He might even try to get the toy any way he can.
By pre-school age, most children have a basic idea about sharing. But your pre-schooler still might not be keen to put sharing into action, and can be impatient when waiting her turn.
You can build your pre-schooler’s sharing skills by watching for good turn-taking, encouraging fairness and explaining about sharing.
If there’s trouble, it can help to remind your pre-schooler how he would feel if someone took his toy, or didn’t let him have a turn. Talking to him about other people’s feelings will help him understand things from someone else’s point of view – this is also an important skill in making friends.
It’s a good idea to be realistic about a pre-schooler’s ability to share. At this age, most children are still learning and can find it hard to understand other people’s thoughts and emotions.
By the time most children start school, they’re beginning to understand that other people have feelings separate from their feelings. This means they can understand the idea of sharing and taking turns, although it might still be hard for them to share a favourite toy or game.
School-age children also have a strong sense of fairness and might not want to share a toy or a game if they think they won’t get a fair go. It might help to check the rules of the games your child is playing (or that your child and her friends have made up!), and reassure your child and others that they’ll all get a turn.
At this age, your child will be much more patient and tolerant than he used to be. He’ll also be keen to do the right thing and can form more complex relationships, which really helps with the idea of sharing. Your child can get lots of practice sharing at school too.