Sharing is an essential life skill that needs to be developed in children from a young age. It is a complex concept to convey to young children as it requires emotion management, empathy, and basic language ability.
Learning to share teaches many important life skills, such as how to make and keep friends, how to play cooperatively, how to take turns, and how to negotiate and cope with disappointment. It also teaches children about compromise and fairness.
These skills become useful as children are introduced to playdates, childcare, preschool, and kindergarten, and they stay with them throughout their lives.
Keep in mind, however, that because children reach certain developmental milestones at different ages you will need to switch teaching techniques as your child grows.
Reasons Why Sharing is Important For a Child
1. Teach Children the Difference between Sharing and Taking Turns
Sharing is a complex concept since there are many ways to share, and it usually involves more than just giving up something you have. Teaching children the different types of sharing can help them understand what is expected of them in different social situations.
Sharing can involve the sharing of items, such as toys, games, or art supplies, where you either give them up or use them together.
You can share food by splitting it with someone knowing you will not be getting it back. You can also share the space around you by allowing someone to sit with you, you can share knowledge or information, and even friendships.
Similarly, sharing may also include taking turns with something, where you give up something for some time with the expectation of getting it back at some point.
2. Be a Good Role Model
Children learn by watching their environment and the people around them, especially their parents. Therefore, modeling good behavior, sharing, and taking turns is essential in teaching them these social skills.
Play games with them where they’ll need to share or take turns and talk them through the steps. Allow your child to see you politely asking others to share and give kind responses when someone asks something of you. Also, model the proper response to disappointment when you don’t get what you want.
Additionally, you can model sharing by offering to split something you have with your child, such as food. And you can ask if you can join in their play and either share a toy, such as blocks, or take turns with something, like a truck.
3. Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Practice Sharing
Give your child opportunities to practice what they’ve learned in a safe environment where you can calmly guide them.
When you play games that involve sharing and taking turns explain to your child what is expected during the game. Remind them the proper way to ask for something and gently nudge them to control their impulses and develop patience when waiting for their turn.
Do not avoid playdates, even if your child is still learning this new skill. Instead, use them as an opportunity to practice. Talk to your child about sharing and taking turns before a playdate.
Help your child decide what toys or items they are willing to share before the playdate, noting that it is ok for them to have special items they may not want to share. Put those special toys or items away to avoid conflict.
Be sure to stay close to your child when they play with other children, especially when first learning this new skill. Gently encourage sharing, taking turns, and kind, polite behavior during playtime.
4. Enforce Age-Appropriate Consequences
Teaching your child the value of sharing will not always be easy. When sharing becomes too difficult for your child, they may start to become aggressive and could even hit others. As such, enforcing age-appropriate measures may be necessary.
Children under two years of age are not able to manage their emotions yet. Sharing issues with a young child may result in tantrums or hitting. The best solution in such a case is to gently calm them, guide them through their feelings, and express to them that hitting is not ok or not allowed.
Opting for parallel play may be a good solution for small children since it involves them playing side by side with their toys. This way, they can still enjoy each other’s company without having to interact with one another too much.
For children three years of age and older, enforce consequences directly related to the issue. If an item is causing problems, take it away from them for a while. The children will see they are all being treated equally.
When you reintroduce the toy, explain to them they are getting a second chance. If needed, help them think about how to handle sharing the item.
Selecting an activity where there is no sharing involved, such as dancing or playing outside, as well as re-direction may also work in resolving conflict.
In redirection, you guide one of the children to a different activity or toy until the other child is done with the item that caused the disagreement. This way they learn to take turns.
5. Help Your Child Manage Their Emotions
Another reason why sharing is important for a child – it helps manage their emotions which is a big part of learning to share. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children begin to notice “when others are hurt or upset, like pausing or looking sad when someone is crying” at about two years old. However, they can only put a couple of words together at that age.
Talk to your child early on about sharing and why it is good to do so, even if they may seem too young. Use age-appropriate language and explain to them why it is good to share and take turns. Introduce the concepts of kindness, empathy, and compassion as opportunities arise.
Elucidate how great a friend must have felt when they shared or took turns with them. Alternatively, ask them how they would feel if someone took something from them without asking or waiting their turn.
Read books based on their age that encourage sharing and emotion management. Ask them questions, especially with older children, about the character’s feelings in different situations or explain to them what is happening.
If they’re too young to articulate more than a few words, help them build their emotional vocabulary.
6. Encourage Sharing Behavior
Bring to your child’s attention when you see acts of kindness in your daily life, in books, and on television, and encourage them to do the same when a similar situation arises.
Give praise and attention when you see your child sharing or taking turns. Tell them what you liked about the interaction and how proud you are of them.
Praising the way your child handles disappointment when they don’t get what they want is just as crucial to their development. They will learn that sometimes it is ok for them, and others, to not want to share something and that it is also ok for them to have to wait their turn.
How they handle disappointment is an essential social skill that should be guided positively and nourished. Be sure to empathize with your child and validate their feelings when they can’t have what they want.
Keep in mind, however, not to overdo your praise and attention since children may be less inclined to do so spontaneously without an adult present to provide the validation. Aim to balance praise and attention with a focus on the impact of the child’s action.
Ask your child how they think their friend felt when they shared with them. Helping your child think of their friend’s or sibling’s feelings helps them develop empathy.
Conversely, point out the positive effect on your child’s relationships and interactions when they showed patience and understanding when they did not get what they wanted.
When learning to share, children initially become resistant to the idea because they feel they are giving up something they want or love, and they don’t know if or when they’ll be getting it back.
According to research published in Science Direct, children under five years of age have very little concept of time. Therefore, setting a timer and reassuring your child they will get the item back when the other child is done may be helpful.
It is also important to convey to your child that sharing is voluntary. Express to your child they do not have to always agree to share or take turns with an item as long as they do it with kindness.
Moreover, it is also ok for them to take their time (as long as ground rules have been established) with an item before giving it up as it allows them to explore and concentrate.
Forcing a child to give up an item only teaches them that their feelings and needs are less important than the other child’s. And it teaches them that a strong person of authority can force them, someone smaller, to give up something they want or love.
Teaching young children to share can be a complex endeavor as it requires emotional management, self-control, and verbal ability. However, with age-appropriate guidance, children can learn to embrace the skill. Through kindness and empathy children can learn the social skills that will enable them to understand and get along with others throughout their lives.