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 children 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 child a great example to follow.
Children also need opportunities to learn about and practise sharing. Here are 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. You might get to share your friend’s toys too.
- Point out good sharing in others. For example, ‘Your friend was sharing her ball 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 have a turn on the swing. 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 play a card, and then it’s your turn’ or ‘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 children find 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 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 your child at the start of the playdate that sharing is a good thing to do with friends. Then you can help your child and their friend to decide what toys they could share.
For children over 3 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 tell them you’re taking the train away for 30 seconds. This will give them time to calm down and a chance to think about how to share. Then give the train back and let them try again. This gives them another chance to get it right. If they still can’t share, you can take it away for longer. Neither child can play with the train, so the consequence feels the same for both of them.
Toddlers: learning to share
Your 2-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.
Preschoolers: starting to understand sharing
By 3 years, many children are beginning to understand about turn-taking and sharing. For example, your child 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 be impatient when waiting their turn.
You can build your child’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 child 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 best to have this conversation when your child is calm.
It’s a good idea to be realistic about your child’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: sharing in tricky situations
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 be patient, especially if they’re very excited or upset.
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 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.