It's no surprise that sharing is a challenge for young kids. While it might be the most important aspect of human life, a child's developmental rate doesn't include empathy and sharing until much later in life. They seem to think in this way – what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine. If sharing is so important to people, why do young children have such a hard time? Read here to discover how a young child understands their belongings, and how you can encourage them to loosen their grip and share.
Key Points of Teaching Your Child to Share
- A child's maturity to understand other people and that things can be returned won't be developed until later in life so it's key to be patient with your child.
- Start slow when borrowing or taking their favorite things when teaching them to share.
- Using games, activities, or toys that take two people is a great way to teach your child that sharing can be great!
Let’s take a look at things from your child’s perspective. Their ego extends far beyond themselves when they are young. They don’t yet have the maturity to separate themselves from objects they like or leave them open to be used by someone else. Therefore, a new object they have just become attached to feels like it is an extension of their personal self.
So if you approached life this way, how would you feel if someone took away your new “extension?” You would be very unhappy indeed, much like young children can be. By the time children are in preschool, they are getting better at this. However, they still have difficulty understanding why anyone would want to share. As difficult as this may seem for your child, they can certainly learn how to share well with others. All it takes is some practice and trust. Here are a few ways to make that happen.
Practice with your children sharing possessions for short periods of time. Longer periods are going to test your child’s patience. Does anyone know a really patient preschooler? Probably not. Let your child get used to sharing and seeing that her possession is returned to her safe and sound. This practice will help her see that sharing is not such a threat to her personhood. Later, she can see how sharing can actually add to her fun.
Have children practice sharing with you. Share food, toys, a blanket, or play a game that requires two people. Sharing with you as their parent may be a lot less scary than with another child. They probably have more confidence that you will return their toy or give them a fair portion of a snack.
Set up a “sharing practice” when you invite a friend over for your child. Explain the situation clearly to your preschooler. Tell them what is going to happen, that you are staying close by, and that he or she will be a kid sharing toys with their friend. Be sure your child knows that they can put up some special toys they do not want to share. Tell him or her that even though another child is playing with their toys, they all stay at home when the friend leaves.
One of the easiest ways to teach the importance of sharing is to set up a collaborative activity. Could be anything from building a fort or solving a puzzle or even something like a simple board game. The act of collaboration can show them that sharing is fun and important when there is a group task.
Siblings can present an interesting problem with sharing. Many siblings end up playing with each others’ toys. It can be tough for a very young child to feel like they have ownership of anything. Create “joint ownership” for some items like family games, art supplies, large play sets, etc. Also, be sure they have some special toys that the child doesn’t have to share at all. If they have these items secured, you can get your children to share less personally valued items.