Here is a simple guide to teaching your child to share:
Every parent understands the frustration that can sometimes come with trying to get a toddler to share. In a sense, difficulty in sharing at this age is a good indication – it points to the fact that your child is starting to develop his own identity and can form attachments.
As a society we understand the value of sharing. It optimises the utilisation of resources, maintains peace and harmony and can generally help little ones navigate social situations with greater ease. But sharing doesn’t come naturally at this age. Before the age of 5 or 6 years children are not yet able to develop empathy and so can’t understand how others may think or feel.
At this age, teaching children to share is more about conditioning as they’ll only be able to fully appreciate the value of sharing as they get older. Here’s how you can help your toddler to share:
Don’t expect too much
Successful sharing often depends on several factors: What is being shared? What mood is your child in? Who is he expected to share with? Sharing often presents a power struggle and children may be more inclined to share with a younger or less demanding child, or when they don’t feel forced to do so.
Decide on WHAT is to be shared:
Will all possess certain items that we consider precious and sacred, don’t force you child to share his most treasured toys with others. Think carefully about what you want to teach your child with regards to sharing: Is it sometimes okay to enjoy a special treat all by themselves? Do they understand that it is best not to share straws, plasters or tissues with others?
Know your child’s sharing style
It is important to observe your child in social settings. If he generally tends to grab things from others you may want to teach him not to do this. But if he shares too readily and is always losing out, it is important to teach him to be more assertive.
Teach generosity first
When children understand kindness, they can begin to understand the concept of sharing.
Successful sharing during play dates may take a little social engineering. Be sure to put away the toys your child considers most precious and remember that novelty is your friend – invite your child’s playmate to bring some of their toys along with them. This way they each get to play with toys that are “new” to them. Also try to have a special treat or two on hand with which to distract them when the sharing-wars begin.
Give them something to share
Children may initially be very resistant to sharing their possessions, but can be taught the concept in other ways. Give them a bunch of spoons, flowers, candies, napkins, etc. and ask them to go around handing one to each person in the room.
Give or take
Young children love play “ta”. Give your child a toy and then hold out your hand, asking him to give the toy back to you – repeat. This back and forth exchange will help your child understand that sharing an object doesn’t mean that it is lost to them.
Help your child understand that sharing doesn’t need to happen instantly by explaining that a friend or sibling will share a toy “once they’re done” playing with it.
Set a time frame
If “once they’re done” is too vague a concept and continuously leads to squabbles try setting a timer, explaining that each child will have a turn and will get exactly 10 minutes to play with a toy before it is the next child’s turn.
Resist the urge to intervene immediately
Squabbling about toys provides an important opportunity for children to learn negotiation skills and conflict resolution skills. Only get involved if the situation seems to be deteriorating and, as a last resort, remove the toy explaining that no one gets to play with it until they learn to share. When given this choice children are generally much more willing to cooperate than face the possibility of not being able to play with the toy at all.
Provide lots of praise and positive reinforcement when your child shares with others, whether you had to intervene in the situation or not. Seeing how happy their behaviour makes you will encourage them to act in similar ways in the future.
Anel Annandale is a prominent Educational Psychologist with a passion for early childhood development and a special interest in neuropsychology.
She is experienced in the field and has established herself as an expert, often appearing on television shows such as Exspresso. She is also available as a guest speaker at relevant events and functions.