Most children have a hard time learning how to share, which leaves parents wondering what to do when sharing becomes a problem for their kids. This article will offer some parenting tips, including different ways you can encourage sharing based on the developmental stages of your child.
The importance of teaching children healthy sharing habits
Teaching kids sharing is an important part of developing social skills. It can help children learn how to be compassionate and empathetic towards others. Sharing also helps children develop other important skills, such as patience, emotion regulation, and setting boundaries. Here are some healthy ways you can help your kids learn about sharing!
Sharing amongst toddlers
Healthy Way #1: Have Realistic Expectations
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When considering children’s development, toddlers are just learning what it means to have something to hold onto. It is perfectly normal for them to want to keep something for themselves, and it is unlikely for them to be able to grasp the concept of sharing at this age. Parents should have realistic expectations about the fact that a toddler is too young to comprehend how sharing works. What you can do is to be an example for your toddler, so they are surrounded by others who are demonstrating this skill for them.
Healthy Way #2: Modeling
Parents can model what sharing looks like. Young children are like sponges, and they will notice and observe your behavior. If you have other children who are older, you can also ask them to model sharing for their younger sibling.
Healthy Way #3: Expect Selective Sharing
Especially at a young age, children often will attribute meaning to their toys. They may designate special toys that they do not want to share. This is a normal part of being a toddler because children seek out physical items to give them comfort. For example, perhaps your little boy has a hard time giving up his teddy bear; it is likely that this stuffed animal gives him a sense of safety and security. Young children are considering their own needs when they hold onto these comfort items, but they might be more willing to share a different toy.
Sharing amongst pre-schoolers
Healthy Way #4: Develop Empathy
Preschoolers are at an age where they are able to start learning about taking turns. One way you can help your child learn turn taking is to help them develop empathy. You might offer a phrase like, “how would you feel if you didn’t get to play with your favorite toy?” The goal is to help your child start to learn about other people’s feelings, which will encourage them to ultimately understand why it is important for kids to share.
Healthy Way #5: Praise Turn Taking
When your child successfully shares something, give them praise! Providing positive reinforcement teaches children that sharing is a good thing. You can even try playing games that encourage kids to practice sharing in a fun way; this also gives you the opportunity to purposefully watch for sharing opportunities and praise it right away when it happens.
Healthy Way #6: Teaching Kids the Benefits of Giving
When a child learns the benefits of giving, they are more motivated to keep giving more often. Parents can teach this by helping children make the connection between “I feel good when someone gives my favorite toys to me” and “I like helping other people feel that way too.” One way to practice and reinforce this skill is to encourage your child to give their toys to their friend when they are done playing with it.
Healthy Way #7: Find Another Activity
If one child is waiting for another child to finish their turn with a toy, it can be helpful to have another activity or toy for them to use while they wait. Part of teaching children to share includes teaching them that there are other toys they can play with while they wait for the toy they really wanted. This also teaches your child helpful coping skills for everyday life: how to stay patient and seek out sources of comfort for self-soothing.
Healthy Way #8: Waiting Helps with Impulse Control
Many parents struggle when their child behaves impulsively. When this happens, try helping your children learn the benefits of delay gratification. Show your child that some things are worth waiting for. After a successful play time, you could reward your child and say something like, “I noticed that you waited for your friend to finish playing with her toy today; let’s go get ice cream to celebrate what a good job you did with sharing today.”
Sharing amongst grade-schoolers
Healthy Way #9: Develop Friends
When your child starts to make friends, they will naturally become more motivated to share more often. Many children want their friend to like them. They also want to have a fun time together, so they are willing to make compromises and negotiate who gets to play with what toy.
Healthy Way #10: Learn Problem Solving Skills
Grade-school children are capable of learning ways to resolve conflict on their own. When two children want the same toy, they can use problem solving skills to compromise a win-win solution where they both get what they want.
Healthy Way #11: Make Sharing a Positive Thing
Children tend to have trouble sharing when sharing is associated with negative feelings. This is why it can be helpful to do your best to keep sharing positive! Adults and older children in the family can set an example by expressing positivity when they share something. For example, perhaps a parent might say, “I like to express my love by sharing my cooking with my family. Would you like a cookie?”
Healthy Way #12: Develop Emotion Regulation
Emotion regulation will help your child learn how to respond appropriately if they are experiencing frustrations related to waiting their turn. It can also help your child to share in a healthy way, because they are more capable of self-regulating annoyances that may come up when another child does something to upset them during play time.
Setting healthy boundaries – when NOT sharing is perfectly acceptable
Healthy boundary #1: Know Which Items are Prized Possessions
Remember how certain things can help a child feel safe and secure? Know which items are prized possessions for your child. It is okay for your child to say that they need their special blanket, and this might not be the best item for them to share with other kids.
Healthy boundary #2: Appropriate Timing for Sharing
Some kids might ask for a turn with a toy at a moment’s notice, without giving the second child any sort of warning. When a child is playing with a toy, they are immersed in their own inner world. Play has a therapeutic role in a child’s life, and it can be startling to interrupt their play process without warning. The same suggestion goes for busy parents: do your best to give your child a 5 minute warning before ending play time. Otherwise, the child has a right to ask for just a few more minutes with their toys before giving it up. You can tell the other child, “she will give you her toy when she’s ready.”
Healthy boundary #3: Avoid Forced Sharing
Remember the benefits of associating positivity with sharing? Forced sharing will teach kids that sharing is a negative thing. Try some of these other tips in this article to increase their willingness to engage in sharing, without forcing them to share.
Healthy boundary #4: Privacy Concerns
There are times when a child may ask for alone time, or might need privacy. For example, if your children share a bedroom, it is okay for one of them to request privacy when they are getting dressed. Some kids may also need some alone time, and they have the right to say “not right now” if another child is asking to share toys and play together.
Healthy boundary #5: Consider Other Life Circumstances
If your family is going through a major life change, they may not be their best selves. Your child’s attention may not be optimal, and it is common for kids to feel irritable when they are going through something. Depending on the circumstances, this may not be the best time to work on teaching your child to share.
Sharing a bedroom can encourage healthy cooperative behavior
Kids sharing a bedroom can be a beneficial experience that teaches them how to share. They will naturally have more opportunities to practice the art of sharing simply by being in a situation where more sharing and compromise is needed. Do consider the age and gender of your children when considering appropriateness of sharing a bedroom. Younger children tend to do better with sharing a bedroom compared to middle schoolers and teenagers.
Learning to share is an important piece of early childhood education
Learning the art of sharing will teach your children important social skills. When a child masters the art of sharing, they will increase their friend circle, confidence, self-esteem, emotional regulation, and overall wellbeing. Try out some of these healthy ways of teaching your children to share!