Why sharing is important

Sharing is a vital life skill. It’s something toddlers and children need to learn so they can make and keep 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.

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 as well. Children who share also learn how to take turns and negotiate, and how to cope with disappointment. These are all important life skills.

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:

  • 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’.
  • 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 has 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 she starts 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.

When your child won’t share

Sharing can be a challenge, especially at first. Most children need practice and support to develop this skill.

If your child doesn’t share well, you can try practising together at home and talking about what you’re doing. For example, ‘Let’s share this banana. You can have some, and I can have some’.

There’s no reason to avoid playdates if your child has trouble sharing. Instead, use them as a chance to help your child practise. You could stay nearby and encourage him so he doesn’t forget to share. When he does try to share, you can say exactly what he did well and how proud you are.

Consequences for not sharing
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 have an understanding of what sharing is. In general, young toddlers believe they’re the centre of the world and that everything belongs to them. For sharing, children also need to be able to manage their emotions, and toddlers are only starting to learn how to do this.

So consequences for not sharing probably won’t help your toddler learn to share. Instead, encouragement and practice will work better.

When another child has something your toddler really wants, your child will probably find it very hard to wait her turn. She might even try to get the toy any way she can, or have a tantrum if she can’t get what she wants.

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 he still might not be keen to put sharing into action when it comes to giving something up. He might also still be impatient when waiting his turn.

You can build your preschooler’s sharing skills by watching for and praising good turn-taking, encouraging fairness and explaining about sharing. Simple activities that involve sharing and taking turns like kicking soccer goals or shooting basketball hoops can be helpful.

If there’s trouble, it can help to remind your preschooler how she’d feel if someone took her toy, or didn’t let her have a turn. Talking to her about other people’s feelings will help her understand things from someone else’s point of view – this is also an important skill in making friends.

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.

School-age children
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 he used to be. He’ll also be keen to do the right thing and can form more complex relationships, which really helps with the idea of sharing. Your child can get lots of practice sharing at school too – for example, sharing pencils at his desk or sharing paints in art.