Teaching The Art of Sharing

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The following post is by contributor Amanda Morgan from  Not Just Cute and originally appeared in November of 2010.

All kids love sharing….as long as that means you have something to share with them! But when it comes time for these little ones to part with some valued treasure of their own, they quickly set aside their passion for equal divisions.  Here are a few reasons why sharing can be such a struggle, and some simple steps that we as parents can take to ease the way.

Children are Not Developmentally Designed to Share

Three things to remember from a developmental standpoint:

1. Young children are naturally ego-centric.

They see the whole world through the lens of their own wants and desires.  Giving something up because it makes someone else happy requires a very big mental leap.  This means that we have to gently teach them over and over to recognize and value the feelings of others.

2. Young children are  naturally seeking power.

It’s a motivating source that allows them to learn and become more proficient and independent.  If sharing is presented to them as a loss of power (“You must give something up“) rather than as an opportunity to be powerful (“You can choose what or when to share”/”You can help someone be very happy“), they will naturally resist.  Help children recognize the power in sharing.

3. Social skills are learned.

As is the case with social skills in general, children don’t naturally develop the ability to share.  Just as they don’t wake up one day knowing how to write their own name, they won’t suddenly be able to navigate the social art of sharing on their third birthday.  Be aware that sharing requires practice, which always includes mistakes along with the successes.

So how can you teach your child to share?

Here are a few approaches:

Give your child plenty of opportunities to share neutral items.

Sharing your favorite toy is much harder than picking out a treat at the store with the express purpose of sharing it with friends or having a cousin over to play with a sprinkler you can enjoy together.  Give your child plenty of positive experiences sharing with others.  Call attention to their efforts and the happiness it has brought to others, as well as the happiness they feel themselves.

Play turn-taking games.

When you play simple games like Candyland or duck-duck-goose, your child practices turn-taking.  She begins to realize that even though it isn’t her turn now, she will get a turn.  It helps her to regulate and control impulses, to delay gratification, and to recognize the need for others to have a chance as well.

Teach social scripts for sharing.

Young children are still developing their language centers and often lack the verbal proficiency required to negotiate with their peers.  It is much less laborious to simply connect impulse to action and make a grab for it!  Teach your children specific scripts they can fall back on when they want to share.  Teach these scripts in role-playing situations where the grounds are neutral and emotions are calm.  Remind children of these exact scripts in play situations to call their minds back to that learning session.

One script I have had success with is, “Can I have a turn when you’re done, please?”  This one works well because it communicates to the child in possession of the coveted item that sharing doesn’t mean giving it up right away.  It gives them the courtesy of finishing, and the power to decide when that is.  It is much less threatening than abruptly being asked to give something up.  Secondly, this script lets the child that is asking know that he/she will need to wait a moment.

The funny thing is, many times when I’ve coached children through this script, the child with the toy (who not two minutes earlier was tenaciously gripping the item in a tug-of-war) decides he is done within a matter of seconds.  The difference is, it was on his own terms.

Teach the art of the trade

.  For some children, when they’re asked to share, all they see is what they’ve lost.  They grip that item like a lifeline, not only because they don’t want to give up the toy, but because they don’t want to give up the power it represents.  In these situations, it is helpful if children now how to negotiate a trade.

During a recent playdate with his cousin, my son came to me tearfully.  “He has my car and it’s special!”  (Most things around here instantly become special when it comes to sharing.)  I asked my son if maybe together we could find something he did feel OK about sharing and trade that with his cousin for the “special” car.

So we went to the box of cars and selected three really cool cars that he could share.  With all three in hand he went back to his cousin and asked if he could trade all three for the one.  I sat back as my son sold his cousin on the trade.  They made a swap and – presto – two happy boys sharing cars.

As with other social practice, the key is to remember this is a skill you want your children to be able to eventually use independently.  Try not to swoop in and negotiate the trade yourself.  Guide, prompt, and redirect if it fails, but avoid taking over.

Your Influence

Don’t underestimate the power of your influence. As parents, we are instrumental in the social development of our little ones.  Find plenty of opportunities to model sharing, talk about sharing, and to compliment your children as they make progress along the way.  Sharing may not come naturally to most children, but with your help they’ll master this childhood challenge!

How does your child do with sharing? Have modeling sharing, talking about sharing, or other tactics helped with this?

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About Amanda

Amanda Morgan is a full time mom to three busy boys and a part-time trainer and consultant for a non-profit children's organization. She also writes at Not Just Cute, a blog full of ideas that are more than just cute, for preschoolers who are much more than cute too.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post — very insightful and thought provoking. Was just thinking about this issue today andd you bring up some very good points, especially the part about loss of power. Makes sense!

  2. I don’t think I ever thought about sharing as a loss of power for kids but rather as a social skill that needs to be learned. But you’re right – as they’re becoming more independent and learning how to interact with others this can certainly be a factor. Thanks for the insights!
    Tina @ Dance Star Mickey´s latest post: Mickey Mouse Games

  3. Courtney Milam says:

    Ditto to the idea of sharing being a loss of power for kiddos – very insightful. We have a 2 year-old and 5 1/2 month old. I think we’re still on the young side, but we’re already working on ways to encourage “sharing” with siblings and friends. Thanks!

  4. i like the idea of a specific script to give them!
    dana´s latest post: Monday Meal Plan

  5. love this! thank you!

  6. I have had much luck with scripts and not just for sharing but all manner of things that require us to be cordial and respectful to one another. Great post!
    Another tool I have had luck with is if there is a fight about who can play with what, let the two decide on an acceptable amount of time with which each person can play with the desired item and then set a timer. More often than not the exchange takes place long before the time is finished running. Having a timer that children can control gives them even more independence.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. I’m glad you found the post useful! The concept of sharing as lost power is not something we commonly think of from an adult’s perspective, but when we see things as the children do it helps us teach more effectively. Giving children choices and power in the act of sharing makes it more appealing.
    Rachel- You’re so right about the timer. It’s funny how often the children will trade before the timer even goes off! I particularly appreciate your suggestion about making the timer available to the children so that they can be active in the problem-solving and more independent. Great suggestion!
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Guest Post- Teaching the Art of Sharing

  8. Thanks for this post! This is one of those areas that we parents will be working on for years, so it’s good to get our habits and phrases down early in the process. I second the use of a timer. At our house, it’s taken me out of the “bad guy” who tells when it’s time to trade or share role, and put a plastic object into this position. Much better for me!

    I’ve also role-played sharing or turn taking with the child and her favorite doll or stuffed animal. As in, “Bear-Bear wants a turn on the rocking horse after you. What do you want to tell him?” Because kids already create the dialogue for favorite toys, it’s easier for them to think about how this “doll” might feel.

    One final idea. (My kids are older, so I’ve had many years to think about this issue!) Before a playdate at our house, I have my child go through their room and put away any toys that are too special to share. (They don’t usually go overboard with too many.) This gives them that power you discussed. For playdates at other kids’ homes, we usually bring along some toys to share.

  9. Great post! I am forwarding this to my hubby. :)

  10. I like the tips on taking turn-games

    one thing to remember….most people of all ages are a bit self-centered- we all just have to channel it more positively
    priest’s wife´s latest post: Nervous for Nutcracker

  11. My daughter is 10 months old, but she’s already taking toys from other kids. How early do you start teaching them?

    • I think you’re always teaching them, just in different ways and with different expectations appropriate for each individual. For a 10 month old you would do a lot of talking for her, playing with her to model, and making trades instead of taking. If she takes a toy I would try to guide her over to return it and redirect her to another toy. You could also coach her to trade or ask for a turn. It sounds silly to some to do all that talking for a 10 month-old, but it lays the ground work and builds connections. She’ll begin to notice the process and mimick your words.

      Anyone else with suggestions?
      Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Guest Post- Teaching the Art of Sharing

  12. Children really care so much what we think that they will like sharing if we show them how proud we are when they do it!
    Scarlet´s latest post: L’Artiste- The New Generation Lunch Bag by BrightBin

  13. Fabulous post! I used to work with young children and their parents always complained that the children didn’t share. I sometimes answered by asking them if they could share their new BMW with me or share their new earings for a couple of days.
    They usually smiled.
    The truth is, we don’t come from a grown up culture who “shares” very much with each other, but we expect our children to be something entirely different! :)
    Kimberly´s latest post: Flower Fairies

  14. Great suggestions! I really like the script and game playing suggestions especially.

    I would also add to empathize with children about sharing. Sharing is hard, and we often are not nearly as good at it ourselves as we expect our kids to be.

    I think it\’s also important to let children choose not to share some special things. In our house, if a toy or other prized possession is too special to share (or too brand new), then it just needs to be taken up to a bedroom and played with privately. My kids generally prefer to play with each other and share rather than play alone with any toy, but it does keep special things safe (especially from destructive little brothers!).

    I have seen many parents impose totally cruel and unrealistic expectations about sharing on very young children, and I find it very sad. At my daughter\’s birthday party one year, she was given a hand-sewn doll by a friend (made by a young child, so not the sturdiest!). Another child demanded to play with it in the swimming pool and then shrieked, “She\’s not sharing!” when my daughter said she wanted to keep it kept up with the other presents and safe. Her mother loudly said, “I know, and it\’s not nice but maybe they don\’t have the same rules in their family that we do.”

    If my husband gave me a new dress for my birthday and a friend immediately asked to borrow it, I don\’t think I should be forced to share. I might choose to, but I might not (at least not the first day). I think it\’s important to really put ourselves in our children\’s shoes when we teach these things. And also to share graciously and often with them, since they learn the most by watching us. :)
    Alicia´s latest post: Green craft round-up- Baby shoes from old jeans- tire swings and more!

  15. Alicia, Kimberly, and Scarlet –

    All great points! We have to be good examples ourselves before we can expect our little ones to develop the same habit. We need to feel and show empathy as well. It’s a hard thing we’re asking of them! (I love your comparison to the BMW, Kimberly!) And you’re right – sometimes it’s not fair to share. We would all like the right to keep some things safe, and children should have the same right. Like you, Alica and Suzita, I’ll often tell my little ones if there’s something they don’t feel comfortable sharing, that is fine, but it needs to be put away rather than out tempting their playmates. Thanks for adding to the discussion!
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Guest Post- Teaching the Art of Sharing

  16. Thanks for very helpful reminders and suggestions!

  17. Great article- concise and useful tips! I have a 27 month old and a 5 week old, and my older son just started getting possessive about things and screaming if another child tries to take his toy. I love the idea of a script to offer, and also putting away special toys. Good reminder not to negotiate for the child, which is often what I see other moms (and myself) do.

    Sometimes it also seems to help if I remind him before friends come over that sharing is a nice behavior and that his friends will want to play with his cool stuff.

    I wish I could forward this article to a few moms in our playgroup… lol!

  18. Thanks for these tips. My daughter doesn’t do too badly but I’m always on edge when I see someone with a toy that I know she treasures. I like the idea of having a script ready.
    Lisa´s latest post: With the Right Kind of Help Dreams Can Come True

  19. i let my son (almost 3) hide a few very special toys in the closet before playdates. it seems to honor that some things are very special (vacuums he’s built out of duplos – i can understand why watching someone destroy that is upsetting) and he has some choice in what he shares.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by NJ Family-Lucy Banta and Simple Kids, Mindi-B.A. Bookworm. Mindi-B.A. Bookworm said: RT @simplekids: So pleased to have one of my favorite bloggers, Amanda @NotJustCute writing on SK re: Sharing http://simplekids.net/the … [...]

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  4. [...] If you’re looking for more of Amanda’s wisdom for parents here at Simple Kids, check out the archives for all of her posts. This post is one I’ve personally found very helpful: Teaching the art of sharing. [...]

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