Q: In watching my one-year old interact with other children, I noticed that she is having a tough time with the idea of sharing. Can you suggest ways I can be encouraging, without upsetting her? ~ Katie, Victoria
A: Instead of “forcing” your child to share indiscriminately, it can be helpful to look at each situation from your child’s point of view, first and foremost. Teaching your child about the habit of sharing takes practice and patience.
We all would love to see our child share without prompting or reminding. When we start seeing things from our child’s vantage point, we soon understand why expecting our child to share on demand, seems unfair and unrealistic.
Think about it: Most of us have no problem sharing our meal and clothes, with people we know; or even with people we don’t know. But would you lend your wedding ring to a stranger you just met randomly at the park? How about the key to your home? Yet we expect our children to do just that: share everything, including their most prized possessions; with anyone who asks for them.
It can be helpful to remember that in order to share, young children first have to form the “concept of ownership”, which doesn’t happen until sometime after their first birthday. Initially they can’t recognize the difference between what belongs to them, and what belongs to others.
After they reach that understanding, they still have to learn the difference between sharing and giving. This will make sharing much easier because your child will comprehend that when they share a toy with someone, it doesn’t mean that they will never see it again. What a relief!
For parents who are unsure about how to proceed, there are many effective ways to teach children about sharing.
Model by Example
Share everything you can with your child, saying the words as you do it, “I like to share (my cup) with you”. This helps your child understand what sharing means.
Share Simple Things
Start by asking your child to share food: Young children love to feed their parents, and they willingly take part in this activity!
Share Both Ways
When sharing your things with your child, ask for them back. Simply say, “I shared it with you and now I would like it back”.
Keep it Simple
Only use the word “share”: Not borrow, lend, return, or any of the other many words associated with the act of sharing and returning. This way, you reinforce the concept clearly, which helps your child learn it quickly and easily.
Start Sharing with Small Items
Begin with short sharing episodes. Ask your children to share their toys; play with them; then give them back within less than one minute. You can slowly – over the next few weeks – extend that time, while keeping the retention time under five minutes. Through this approach they realize that when you say “share”, it always means that you will return it to them.
Reinforce Your Child’s Efforts
Simply say “thank you for sharing with me, it makes me happy!” Don’t say “nice boy” or “nice girl”, which implies that they are not nice if they are unwilling to share at a particular time. Instead of children sharing because they are afraid of being a bad person, they should do so as a result of finding pleasure in making you happy. Remember to focus on teaching “the value”, rather than just obtaining a desired result.
Once your child is comfortable with the concept of sharing, you can practice sharing in social settings with other children; at the park and in playgroups.
Create Positive Sharing Experiences:
Bring plenty of toys so your child can share and not have to wait for a turn to play.
• Leave all of your child’s favorite possessions at home, to avoid forcing your child to share them.
• Play alongside your child, to demonstrate how it’s done and to reinforce and encourage your child: “thank you for sharing your pail with me”; “your new friend is very happy that you are sharing with him! He likes to play with you!” – this also helps your child understand that sharing is a good way to make friends.
• If your child feels overwhelmed, calmly and discretely leave the playgroup, without reprimanding your child. Talk about the experience: “It’s hard sometimes to share our toys with people we don’t know, isn’t it?”
• If he is playing with a toy and another child wants it, don’t force your child to share. Instead, support your child and model the correct behavior: “Sam is playing with his toy right now, but he can share it with you later” or “he brought other toys that you can play with”.
Natacha is a writer, teacher, and the founder of CEFA Early Learning and Junior Kindergarten Schools (www.cefa.ca)