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Healthy Ways to Teach Kids Sharing

Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Mar 10, 2023

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!

Practical techniques for teaching kids to share by age group

Adapting your teaching methods to match your child’s developmental stage can significantly improve their understanding and ability to share. Here are some practical, age-specific techniques that promote sharing skills effectively among children:

Toddlers (1-3 Years)

Modeling sharing is an effective technique for toddlers, as they learn best by imitation. Demonstrating sharing behavior regularly with them and with other adults, and explaining your actions, like saying, “I am sharing my snack with you because sharing makes us both happy!” illustrates the joy of sharing and aids in developing empathy at a young age.

Praising small successes significantly reinforces positive behavior for toddlers, helping them grasp the importance of respecting others’ personal space and own needs. By acknowledging even their minor acts of sharing with enthusiasm, you instill a sense of accomplishment and teach respect for others.

Using simple language helps toddlers understand the concept of sharing more clearly. Phrases like “taking turns” or “one for you, one for me” are easy for them to grasp and remember, which facilitates their learning process about sharing and turn-taking.

Introducing time concepts with tools like timers can effectively teach toddlers about turn-taking. For instance, each child can play with a toy for two minutes before passing it on. This helps establish early boundaries for young kids.

Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

Role-playing games can be highly effective. Using dolls or action figures to act out sharing scenarios, and discussing how each character might feel and why sharing is important, helps them develop empathy and understand boundaries.

Incorporating storytime with books that highlight sharing and discussing the stories afterward encourages empathy and self-awareness. Asking questions like, “How do you think he felt when he shared his toys?” deepens their understanding.

Creating sharing opportunities during playdates, such as puzzles or arts and crafts involving shared materials, helps children learn to set boundaries and share naturally.

Using rewards such as stickers, or something small like that, can be a great way to celebrate moments of sharing success. When the reward is paired with an explanation of what the success was, you give your child a point of reference they can independently apply in the future.

Giving praise when your preschooler successfully shares something is a great reinforcement tool, so 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.

School-age children (6-12 years)

Group projects that require teamwork, like building a large puzzle, encourage boundary-setting and cooperation. Discussing the importance of sharing materials fosters cooperative skills.

Having open conversations about the consequences of not sharing helps children understand the impact of their actions on friendships and group dynamics, encouraging them to take their peers’ limits seriously.

Encouraging empathy by prompting children to consider others’ feelings in different situations, whether real-life or fictional, helps them develop a deeper understanding of empathy.

Establishing clear household rules about sharing, discussing them, and ensuring understanding of consequences helps children respect boundaries and understand their importance in social interactions.

General tips for all ages

Be consistent: Children need consistency. Apply the same rules and expectations consistently so they understand what is expected of them.

Lead by example: Children are highly influenced by adult behavior. Regularly demonstrate sharing in your daily activities.

Positive reinforcement: Acknowledge and celebrate when your child shares, emphasizing how proud you are and how their actions help others feel happy.

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Developmental stages and how they relate to sharing

Understanding the developmental stages of children is crucial when teaching them the concept of sharing. As children grow, their cognitive and emotional abilities develop at different rates, which profoundly influences how they perceive and engage with the world around them. Here’s a breakdown of how these stages relate to their ability to share:

Toddlers (1-3 Years)

At this stage, children are just beginning to learn about the concept of ownership. They often view the world from a self-centered perspective, where their immediate desires and needs take precedence. This is why toddlers might find it challenging to share toys or attention, as they are still grasping the idea that others have feelings and desires similar to their own. Sharing for toddlers isn’t just about giving something away; it’s a complex negotiation of trust and understanding, which they are only starting to develop. This early experience helps them develop empathy and understand their own boundaries, which are essential for their growth at a young age.

Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

Preschoolers are at a stage where they start to understand social rules and the feelings of others, but their ability to empathize is still limited. They can follow simple sharing rules, like taking turns, especially when guided by adults. However, preschoolers may still struggle with impulse control, making waiting their turn or giving up a toy for a peer a significant challenge. At this age, children begin to play cooperatively, and sharing becomes a critical component of playtime, helping them forge friendships and learn social negotiation skills. This stage is vital for helping them learn to set boundaries and help your child foster awareness that will play a major role in their interactions.

School-age children (6-12 years)

By the time children reach school age, their social and cognitive skills have developed to a point where they can understand others’ perspectives more deeply. They are better at regulating their emotions and can manage delayed gratification, which facilitates smoother sharing interactions. School-age children can handle more complex forms of sharing and turn-taking, such as sharing responsibility for a group task or negotiating the use of shared resources fairly. This is also the stage where peer influence becomes more significant, and children are more keenly aware of the social rewards of sharing, such as gaining acceptance and building trust among friends. This understanding helps them further develop empathy and set boundaries, which are crucial as they learn to respect limits on offering and taking seriously their own and others’ limits in various social settings.

Emotional and social benefits of teaching kids to share

Teaching children to share is not just about encouraging them to part with their possessions; it also involves cultivating emotional and social skills that will serve them throughout their lives. Sharing builds empathy, as it helps children understand and relate to the feelings of others.

By considering what another person might want or need, children learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which is crucial for developing compassionate relationships and understanding diverse perspectives. Furthermore, effective sharing enhances social interactions by fostering communication, negotiation, and cooperation among peers, leading to improved social acceptance and a stronger sense of community.

Additionally, sharing teaches children to manage their emotions, especially in situations where they might feel reluctant to give up something important. This helps them develop emotional resilience and self-control. The positive feedback received from peers and adults when they share can enhance their self-esteem and happiness, creating a sense of personal satisfaction and reinforcing positive behavior.

Sharing is also a fundamental aspect of teamwork, preparing children to work collaboratively in school projects, sports, and eventually, in their professional lives. It helps them understand how to share resources and responsibilities, which is essential for successful teamwork.

Sharing develops moral values such as fairness and generosity. Regular practice of sharing helps children internalize these values, making them more considerate and caring individuals. Finally, the ability to share is vital in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

Whether in family dynamics, friendships, or romantic relationships, sharing plays a crucial role in showing care and building trust. Early lessons in sharing pave the way for children to become thoughtful and cooperative partners and family members in the future.

Addressing challenges with stubborn children

Teaching a stubborn child to share can be a challenging task, as these children may show resistance to letting go of their belongings or taking turns. However, with the right strategies, parents and caregivers can help these children develop sharing habits. Here are some specific methods to address the reluctance and foster cooperative behavior:

Consistent reinforcement

Regularly reinforce the behavior you want to see. Every time your child successfully shares, provide immediate and specific praise. For example, say, “Thank you for sharing your blocks with your friend. It made her very happy!” Consistency in your responses helps the child understand the positive outcomes of sharing.

Clear and consistent boundaries

Set clear rules about sharing and enforce them consistently. Explain what is expected in different situations, like during playdates or family gatherings, and be firm about the consequences of not sharing. Consistency helps the child understand the importance of sharing and the reliability of the rules.

Storytelling and role-playing

Use storytelling or role-playing to make the concept of sharing more relatable and engaging. Create stories where characters face similar challenges with sharing but overcome them by seeing the benefits, such as making new friends or enjoying a game together. Role-playing these scenarios can help the child experience the positive emotions associated with sharing, making it more likely they will emulate this behavior in real life.

By leveraging these strategies, you can help a stubborn child see the value of sharing, turning a challenging behavior into an opportunity for learning and growth.

When not sharing is perfectly acceptable

Teaching kids about boundaries, and how there are times when it is appropriate to not share, is as important as the art of sharing itself. Here are guidelines to help establish healthy boundaries that respect children’s individual needs and situations:

Healthy boundary #1: respect for prized possessions

Recognize which items are particularly meaningful to your child, such as a special blanket or a favorite toy. These items often provide comfort and security, and it’s perfectly acceptable for children to choose not to share these personal treasures with other kids.

Healthy boundary #2: appropriate timing for sharing

Sharing should never disrupt a child’s deep engagement with a toy or activity. For instance, if a child is immersed in play, it’s important to respect their personal space and perhaps give a gentle reminder before playtime ends, allowing them a chance to finish up on their terms. This consideration helps maintain a respectful sharing environment.

Healthy boundary #3: avoid forced sharing

Forced sharing can create negative associations with sharing. It’s crucial to encourage kids to share voluntarily by creating ample opportunity to see the benefits themselves. Teaching kids about the positive aspects of sharing can make it more likely they’ll choose to share on their own.

Healthy boundary #4: privacy concerns

Children often need their own space, especially during personal activities like getting dressed. If children share a bedroom, it’s important to set boundaries that allow for private moments. Respecting these requests for privacy teaches kids that it’s normal to have own boundaries that should be honored by others.

Healthy boundary #5: consider other life circumstances

Be mindful of the emotional and physical state of your child. If the family is going through a significant change or stress, it might not be the best time to enforce sharing. Recognizing and adapting to these circumstances shows children that empathy and self-awareness are valued in handling real-life situations.

By establishing these boundaries, you not only teach kids how to share but also how to respect those of others, which is a key part of developing social skills. This approach ensures that children learn to set boundaries that are healthy for themselves and respectful towards others.

The benefits of bedroom sharing for sibling cooperation

Sharing a bedroom can encourage healthy cooperative behavior and serves as an excellent setting for children to learn and practice the art of sharing. By sharing a space, kids are provided with continuous opportunities to practice sharing, negotiate, and find and discuss examples of compromise in their daily lives. This environment naturally fosters a mindset of cooperation and teaches them to take their sibling’s limits seriously.

When considering whether to have kids share a bedroom, it’s important to think about the age and gender of the children. Setting boundaries for young children is generally easier in shared bedrooms, as they are more adaptable and likely to embrace the experience positively. For middle schoolers and teenagers, however, sharing a room might require setting clearer boundaries to respect their own needs and personal space. This arrangement helps all children develop important life skills such as empathy and self-awareness, ensuring they understand how to coexist harmoniously while respecting each other’s own boundaries.

Learning to share is an important piece of early childhood education

Teaching children to share effectively involves using everyday examples that show how both giving and receiving can be beneficial. This makes the concept of sharing tangible and memorable. Recognizing and respecting children’s limits is crucial, as it teaches them to understand and uphold their own boundaries when necessary.

Respecting personal space and recognizing one’s own needs are key aspects of developing healthy boundaries. These boundaries ensure that children not only become generous but also learn to respect themselves and others. Enhancing a child’s empathy and self-awareness deepens their understanding of the impact of their actions, which is important for their social interactions and for building lasting relationships. If you’ve tried these techniques and are still experiencing issues teaching your kids how to share, consider trying child therapy with Anchor Light Therapy Collective.


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