By: Patricia Newton-Powell, Assistant Director of Child Care Services, Penfield Children’s Center

Sharing is difficult, but a normal development process. It helps a child learn how to be a generous person. In a world where we want what we want, when we want it, how on earth is it possible to teach a young child to share a toy, a game, let alone a cookie with someone else, especially with a risk of not getting that item back?

While it’s not always possible (and appropriate) to get your little one to share all the time, here are a few tactics to encourage the art of sharing for children most of the time.

Model how to share yourself. Parents are a child’s first teacher; children emulate/model what they see their parents do, whether it’s good or bad. It’s hard to give a child a hundred percent of mommy and daddy at every given moment. By modeling how you share your time and activities with others, you are teaching children what factors come into play in day-to-day life.  There are other ways you can teach a child how to share by sharing a book, cooking a meal and lending a hand to friends, family and neighbors. Show your child how fun it is to enjoy something with others.

Place emphasis on experiences, rather than things. Children are more likely to remember what they have learned through play than what they’ve heard you say. One of the best ways to teach children about character and sharing traits is to play a game.  Many things are learned during a game such as fairness, humor, honesty, generosity, concentration, flexibility, obedience to rules, sensitivity and competitiveness.  By giving experience-related gifts, such as passes to a zoo or museum instead of just toys, and find ways to get involved with the community as a family. By taking the importance off the item and placing it on sharing an experience with someone else, you’re showing your child what’s really important – having fun with friends and family instead of the newest toy or video game.

Teach your child how to positively interact with others if he’s not done playing with the toy. Teaching a child how to communicate his needs when sharing is important when interacting with others.  We must use every opportunity we can to encourage taking turns. For example we can teach children phrases such as: “I’m not done playing yet, but will give it to you when I’m finished,” allows your child to respectfully decline another child’s immediate plea for the same toy/game/book, but encourages him to think of others’ feelings and share when he’s ready.

Role-play before a playdate. Children like being around other children, but it is important they have the right mindset and know what reasonable expectations are expected of them before they go on a playdate.  Practice makes perfect! Challenge your child to a “pretend” sharing session. Tell him that you are going to play with his favorite toy and his role is to ask if he can play with it. Respond with a sweet, “Yes you may!” Then reverse roles and allow him to be the one who shares. Explain why sharing is important and that it makes you feel happy when he is a nice friend who shares his toys.

Praise good behavior. Praise is the simplest yet most effective way to encourage good behavior. When you show a child that you take notice when he complies with your instructions, following the rules, and playing quietly you will motivate a child to keep up the good work.  When he shares, make sure to let him know that what he is doing is good. Give a hug, high five or tell what a nice friend he is for sharing toys with others. Positive reinforcement such as, “Leo when you share your toys, your friends will share their toys with you,” goes a long way!

Spend time working on group projects.  Whether it’s at home for a playdate, in the classroom or at a birthday party, getting kids to work together on a group masterpiece is so rewarding….for both adults and children. Some of those activities can be coloring the same picture, reading a book together by switching off who turns the page, or taking turns building a block tower. Sharing a project or book can be just as fun (if not more fun!) than playing individually.

Teaching children to share is a simple way to help your little one build strong friendships and learn additional skills such as generosity, respect and how to act in a caring way toward others.

How have you helped your child share?


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