Whether it’s relinquishing a toy, the TV remote or a turn on their Vuly trampoline, every child will have to share something that they enjoy during their formative years. While they're young, kids pick up habits and attitudes that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. The capacity to empathise with the wants and needs of others and to sacrifice for the people they care about are traits that we all want our kids to have. Encouraging them to understand why 'playing nice' is important early in their development will help your kids grow into well-adjusted and warm adults.
For the first in our Families First post, we explore the best ways to teach your child to share, and some tips for parents with possessive children.
Although most parents would like to encourage sharing from the get go, it’s worth noting that children aged two and under will always struggle with the concept. At this age, children are playing in groups but with an independent focus. Their possessions are very important, and they won’t understand the idea of handing one of their toys over to another child.
The best way to introduce sharing at this age is through modelling; familiarise your child with the idea of sharing is the best way to encourage them to do so as they grow. Point out when you are sharing something; for example, when you share food with their other parent, or make room for your child to sit on the couch. They may not understand it at the time, but keeping this up as they get older will reinforce that sharing as something natural and expected.
Creating fun sharing experiences at home can also have a positive impact on young children. For example, give your child a handful of biscuits, and ask them to hand each around to family members.
Once your child hits five, they will begin to understand empathy—an important cognitive development that essentially 'unlocks' sharing. At this age, it’s important for parents to truly solidify the concept of sharing in their child’s mind. You’ve been actively modelling it, and now must encourage your child to do the same.
Try to observe how they interact with other children. Is your child a victim, who always allows others to take their things? Are they responsible for grabbing the possessions of others? If you witness conflict, always try to let the kids work through it themselves. However, if it escalates, it’s a good idea to step in, explain why sharing is important and encourage the children to do so.
It’s important to remember that children will not respond well to being disciplined for not sharing; calling them ‘selfish’ or ‘mean’, or sending them to time out will often create resentment rather than reinforce sharing as positive and necessary.
Where to go, if your child is experiencing problems sharing?
Remember: it's not all about teaching to 'share'... It's about learning how to develop empathy for others and a willingness to help those you care about, even if it disadvantages you.
How do you encourage sharing in your household? Have you developed any tactics to break the habits of possessive children?