By Raising Children Network
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Preschoolers doing craft
Learning to share can be a challenge for young children, but sharing is a skill they need for play and learning throughout childhood.

Why sharing is important

Sharing is a vital life skill. It’s something toddlers and children need to learn in order to make friends and play cooperatively.

Once your child starts having playdates and going to child care, preschool or kindergarten, he’ll need to be able to share with others.

Helping your child learn to share

Children often take their cues from what they see their parents doing. When you model good sharing and turn-taking in family life, you give your children a great example to follow.

Other ways to encourage sharing include the following:

  • Point out good sharing in others. You can say things like, ‘Your friend was sharing her toys really well. That was very kind of her’. You can also point out sharing examples in any books, DVDs or TV shows your child enjoys. For example, you could say things such as, ‘Look at Karen and Rhys sharing the playdough on Playschool. They’re having so much fun!’
  • When you see your child trying to share or take turns, make sure you give lots of praise and attention. For example, ‘I liked the way you let Aziz play with your train. Great sharing!’
  • Play games with your child that involve sharing and turn-taking. Talk your child through the steps, saying things like, ‘Now it’s my turn to build the tower, then it’s your turn. You share the red blocks with me, and I’ll share the green blocks with you’.
  • Talk to your child about sharing before she goes on playdates with other children. For example, you could say, ‘When Georgia comes over, you’ll need to share some of your toys. Why don’t we ask her what she wants to play with?’ You can also talk to your child about sharing before heading off to child care or preschool.
  • Put away any special toys when other children are coming to play at your house. This might help avoid problems with sharing altogether.
Sharing teaches children about compromise. They learn that if we give a little to others, we can get some of what we want as well. Children who share also learn how to take turns and negotiate, and how to cope with disappointment.

When your child won’t share

If your child doesn’t share well, you can try practising this skill together at home. Another strategy is to stay nearby when your child plays with others, encouraging him so he doesn’t forget to share.

You don’t need to avoid playdates if your child has trouble sharing. Instead, use them as a chance to help her practise. When she does try to share, say exactly what she did well and how proud you are.

It can help to create consequences when children don’t share. For instance, if siblings are fighting over a toy and not sharing, a reasonable consequence might be to remove the toy for a short period of time. You can then give them another chance to show they can share it with no problems.

Most young children find sharing and taking turns difficult sometimes. If sharing doesn’t happen, make sure you have a good consequence ready, and an opportunity for your child to try again later.

Sharing across the ages

Your toddler probably doesn’t have an understanding of what sharing is. In general, toddlers believe they’re the centre of the world and that everything belongs to them.

By age three, many children will start to understand the concept of turn-taking. But they might still throw a tantrum if another child takes a toy they want. When another child has something your toddler really wants, your child will probably find it very hard to wait histurn. He might even try to get the toy any way he can.

By preschool age, most children have a basic idea about sharing. But your preschooler still might not be keen to put sharing into action, and can be impatient when waiting her turn.

You can build your preschooler’s sharing skills by watching for good turn-taking and encouraging fairness. If there’s trouble, it can help to remind your preschooler how bad he would feel if someone took his toy, or didn’t let him have a turn. Talking to him about other people’s feelings will help him understand life from someone else’s perspective, which is a great skill to have.

It’s important to be realistic about a preschooler’s ability to share. At this age, most children are still very self-focused, and have little understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions.

School-age children
By the time most children start school, they’re beginning to understand that other people have feelings separate from their own. They can understand the idea of sharing and taking turns. But most children still need you to remind and support them, particularly if they’re being asked to share a much-loved toy or game.

At this age, your child will be much more patient and tolerant than she used to be. She’ll also be keen to do the right thing. She can form more complex relationships, which really helps with the idea of sharing. She’ll get lots of practise at school, too.

Video encouraging sharing and other good behaviour

This video demonstration gives you tips on how to encourage your child to behave in ways you like – for example, sharing.

Children learn a lot from watching their parents’ reactions and behaviour, so you can set a good example by sharing yourself. Lots of praise and encouragement when you see your child doing good sharing will also help. The video highlights the importance of clear communication and connection with your child. 

  • Last updated or reviewed 15-03-2011