Teaching children how to share

As our children get older, one thing we'd all love is for them to play nicely with other kids. But that usually includes sharing toys, food, even their parents - something small children rarely want to do. So how can we teach children that sharing is good? Supernanny expert Dr Martha Erickson explains

By default, young children operate on a "what’s yours is mine" policy, and sharing with playmates is often the last thing they want to do. So how can you help them learn the sharing skills that are vital in life?

My child won’t share!

"My sister and I often meet up with our children, who are both almost three. But although we always hope for a lovely time, the children bicker constantly over toys, food – you name it, they fight over it. They seem totally unable to share with each other. Is there anything we can do?"

Dr Erickson says…

I can imagine how frustrating it is for you and your sister to deal with this bickering when you're trying to have a nice visit. But three-year-olds are just not mature enough for sharing to come naturally. Young children are by nature self-centred, so they tend to want things – food, toys and attention – all to themselves, with little or no regard for others needs. It takes several years of maturation and experience for children to learn to take another’s feelings into account.

At three, children are just moving toward the age when they can grasp the concept of sharing – and the idea of sharing and taking turns must be taught by example, guidance and repetition.

Even as young children learn the concept of sharing, their own desire for power often stands in the way of using what they know. One of the most common ways to establish power is by staking out your turf – you know: “Mine!"

Although it won’t happen quickly, there are steps you can take to help the children learn to share and develop compassion and generosity.

Share with your child In your own interactions with your child, consciously demonstrate and describe sharing. For example, at snack time, say “let’s share this piece of fruit. Here’s a slice for you and here’s one for me.” Or, when building with blocks, say “here, you take a turn and put this one on, then I'll put one on. We're sharing the blocks.” 

Model sharing in your behaviour with others. At home, look for opportunities to share things with your partner. When you and your sister are together, make it a point to do some sharing, describing it as you do so. Three-year-olds are great observers and imitators!

Recognize and praise sharing behaviour whenever you see it. Or, as I often say “catch the children being good.” A simple “oh, I like the way you're giving your cousin a turn” will probably make both children eager to get that positive attention from their mother and auntie. 

As the children get older, encourage perspective taking – seeing through another person’s eyes. For example, when you see them getting into an argument over something, ask them “how do you think he feels when you won’t let him play with that?” or “how do you feel when someone won’t share their snack with you?” Perspective taking is an important step on the way to caring relationships with others, in which sharing becomes the natural and comfortable thing to do.

Related links

Sharing a room - how to help your children get along! Do your kids have to share a bedroom? Child psychologist and Supernanny expert Dr Martha Erickson offers her tips for helping them get the best out of the situation - as well as giving them the space they need

Shared Chore Technique: If your day starts with something like, “Mum, help - he won’t get out of my room”, chances are you’ve got a couple of children who sometimes find it hard to get along. As seen on the show, the Shared Chore Technique aims to discourage sibling rivalry by showing the kids they can get along together (sometimes!).

Shared Play Technique: If you’re sick of hearing the same old squabbles between your kids, encourage a bit of teamwork with the Shared Play Technique. It's used on the show to get siblings working together for a common goal…

 Friendship problems....... What can you do if your little one is having problems making - or keeping - friends? Our expert psychologist, Dr Victoria Samuel, explains.... 

The magic of imaginary friends: Imaginary friends are a natural part of healthy child development. Children use their fantasy friends to practice verbal skills, boost their confidence and for role play. Kids with imaginary friends have been found to be more articulate, have improved creativity and higher self-esteem. Supernanny examines the whys and ways make-believe mates are an important part of a child's social network.

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