In This Post: Simple tips for teaching kids to share (when it’s appropriate) and why I never force my kids to share with others.
Sharing is a vital life skill. Children need to learn this skill in order to play nicely with friends and maintain friendships too.
It all starts at a playground where the children are playing happily with each other and then out of nowhere one child wants what another child has.
The average response (and I’m super guilty of this too) is to say ” Now Johnny, share that truck with that boy, you can always play with it when we get home.”
I can’t believe how many times a situation like this has come up, and it never ends well.
Turns out I’ve been going about the whole “Teaching Kids To Share” all wrong. Forcing children to share their things with strangers should NOT be the norm.
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“Sharing Is Caring”
I literally grew up on the phrase ” sharing is caring”. It was forced on me so hard that I shared everything and anything with anyone and everyone. Even my most favourite things!
I learned that sharing doesn’t feel good.
When a parent “asks” (but really it’s demand here, not so much ask) their child to share it is the parent being generous, not the child. The child is simply complying with an outrageous request. This is not the right way for teaching kids to share.
Let’s say the role was reversed. You’re an adult and you’re at the playground watching your children play and talking on the phone.
One of the parents nearby needs to use your phone and your child says to you, mommy share your phone, now.
Do you end your phone call and give your phone to a stranger? Absolutely not! At least not until you’re finished using it.
So why do we expect our children to stop everything they are doing and give up their things?
I didn’t realize that this is not the best way to teach children about sharing. I mean sharing is generous.
Don’t we want our children to grow up and be generous people?
While the answer is definitely YES, most of us do want to raise sweet and generous children, there are different ways to teach these behaviours that don’t involve hurt feelings at the playground.
Teaching Kids To Share
The best way to approach this sharing situation is to allow your child to finish playing with their toy and THEN share it with a friend.
When you allow your child to make this decision to share you are teaching them positive assertiveness which in turn teaches confidence and raises self-esteem.
This teaches children to set boundaries among other children – a pretty super life skill to have!
As an adult, I have trouble with this all the time…saying “no” and setting personal boundaries, who knew it stemmed from learning to share as a child.
Best of all, when a child willingly shares a toy all on their own when they are all finished with it, it is a happy moment for both children. No resentment, no bad feelings and no tantrum!
Your child is learning how good it feels to share and is more likely to repeat this process even when parents are not watching just because it feels so good. In this case, there is no reason for teaching kids to share, because they do it on their own.
What If Your Child Is The One Waiting To Be Shared With?
It can be difficult to watch an impulsive 3-year-old waiting for a friend to finish with their toy, but there are ways you can make the waiting period less difficult for them.
Showing empathy towards your child can be done with these phrases:
- Oh my goodness, waiting is so hard!
- I see you’re so mad right now, I know how bad you must want to play with that truck. You can have it soon.
- I’m sorry but we can’t just take it out of his hands, you have to wait.
Sharing At Different Ages
An 18-month-old will not understand what sharing means.
Generally, toddlers believe they are the center of the universe and everything they see belongs to them. In terms of sharing, children should have an emotional understanding of keeping their feelings in check, and asking that of a toddler is just too much.
In this case, providing consequences as a result of a not sharing moment, will not have an effect on the learning of how to share.
At this stage, encouragement and practice will be the better option for trying to teach these values to your children.
When another child wants what your child has, your child will most definitely have a difficult time trying to understand the situation. A tantrum can form quickly if the child cannot get what they want.
Encourage your child to wait for their turn and try to explain the situation in a calm assertive voice.
Sharing and turn-taking are often understood by the age of 3.
They may be able to understand the fairness of sharing, however, they are still delicate to the act of actually giving something up to another child to play with.
At this age, children are still impatient and that’s perfectly normal. Patience is a skill that even most adults do not possess.
Try to encourage turn-taking and talk about the value of fairness to teach your child about the value of sharing at this age.
You can try taking turns kicking a ball or shooting a basketball to help develop the patience needed to be able to share.
By the time kids are starting school, they have a good understanding of other people’s feelings and can often feel empathy for others.
By the time your child reaches this age, they will have a good understanding of fairness, kindness and relationships wither others. The tolerance for sharing is much higher and teaching kids to share becomes easier.
School-age children will get a lot of practice learning how to share in school and the act of sharing will become easier and easier to manage for both parent and child. Woo hoo!
I believe sharing is a perfectly fine thing to do when it isn’t forced by a parent. If the child comes to the realization of sharing all on their own, then the sharing is a wonderful thing!
Recommended book for teaching children to share:
The author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kid is Heather Shumaker. She talks about sharing and about the other 29 “renegade rules” in her book. To learn more, click here.