Why sharing is important
Children need to learn to share so they can make and keep friends, play cooperatively, take turns, negotiate and cope with disappointment. Sharing teaches children about compromise and fairness. They learn that if we give a little to others, we can get some of what we want too.
Sharing is a key part of getting along with others, so it becomes more and more important when your child starts having playdates and going to child care, preschool or kindergarten.
Helping your child learn about sharing
Children learn a lot from just watching what their parents do. When you model good sharing and turn-taking in your family, it gives your children a great example to follow.
Children also need opportunities to learn about and practise sharing. Here are some ways to encourage sharing in everyday life:
- Talk about why sharing is good for your child and others. You can say something like, ‘When you share your toys with your friend, everyone gets to have fun’.
- Point out good sharing in others. For example, ‘Your friend was sharing her toys really well. That was very kind of her’.
- When you see your child trying to share or take turns, give your child plenty 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 with your child about sharing before 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 with your child about sharing before they start child care or preschool.
Although it’s important to share, it’s OK for children to have some toys that they keep just for themselves. It’s a good idea to put away these special toys when other children come to play at your house. This can help you avoid problems with sharing. It also shows your child that you understand some things are precious to them.
When your child finds it challenging to share
If your child finds sharing challenging, it’s a good idea to stay nearby when your child plays with other children, and encourage your child so they don’t forget to share. When your child does try to share, you can say exactly what your child did well and how proud you are.
There’s no reason to avoid playdates if your child is still learning to share. Instead, use playdates as a chance to help your child practise. You can remind them at the start of the playdate that sharing is a good thing to do with friends, and help them to decide what toys they could share.
For children over three years, it can help to create consequences for not sharing.
When you use consequences for not sharing, it’s important that the consequences relate to the thing that’s being shared – or not shared! For example, if children aren’t sharing a toy train, you might take the train away from both of them for a short period of time. Neither child can play with the train, so the consequence feels the same for both of them. This can also get children thinking about what they need to do if they want to play with the toy together.
When you think they’re ready, you can give the toy back so children get another chance to show they can share.
Sharing at different ages
Your two-year-old probably doesn’t understand sharing. For example, if another child has something your child really wants, your child might not understand why they have to wait for it.
Also, sharing means children need to be able to manage their emotions, and toddlers are only starting to learn how to do this. So your child might try to take the toy they want, or have a tantrum if they can’t have it.
Expecting your child to be able to share at this age is probably unrealistic. And consequences for not sharing probably won’t help your toddler learn to share. Instead, it’s best to guide your child when they need to share. And encouragement and practice will help your child to learn.
By age three, many children are beginning to understand about turn-taking and sharing. For example, your preschooler will probably understand that sharing equally is the ‘fair’ thing to do, but they still might not want to share if it involves giving up something. Your child might also still be impatient when waiting their turn.
You can build your preschooler’s sharing skills by watching for and praising good turn-taking, encouraging fairness and explaining about sharing. Activities that involve sharing and taking turns can help – for example, choosing dress-ups together or drawing a big picture together using the same packet of crayons.
If there’s trouble, it can help to ask your preschooler how they’d feel if someone took their toy, or didn’t let them have a turn. Talking to your child about other people’s feelings will also help your child understand things from someone else’s point of view.
It’s a good idea to be realistic about a preschooler’s ability to share. At this age, most children are still learning and can find it hard to understand other people’s thoughts and emotions.
By the time most children start school, they’re beginning to understand that other people have feelings too. This means they’re more likely to share and take turns, although it might still be hard for them to share a favourite toy or game.
School-age children also have a strong sense of fairness and might not want to share a toy or a play a game if they think they won’t get a fair go. It might help to check the rules of the games your child is playing, and reassure your child and others that they’ll all get a turn.
At this age, your child will be much more patient and tolerant than they used to be. Your child will also be keen to do the right thing and can form more complex friendships, which really helps with the idea of sharing. Your child can get a lot of practice sharing at school too – for example, sharing paints in art, or playing games together at recess or lunch.