“IT’S MINE!” … “NO, IT’S MINE!” … “GIVE IT BACK!” …
As a parent of young children, you might often find yourself playing the role of referee among little siblings or even your child and his friends. Teaching kids how to share can seem frustrating at times, but keep in mind that sharing is a learned value. It’s also an important social skill that every child — and adult for that matter — needs in order to live happily in the world. Oftentimes, the concept of taking turns and cooperative playing means little to preschoolers, but don’t give up hope. They’ll begin to understand as they grow, and like everything else in raising children, what you model rubs off on your kids.
Renee Mosiman, a family therapist and co-author of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Intellectual Potential (Brighter Insights; $14.95) says selfish behavior in 2- and 3-year-old children is normal and encourages parents to provide play date opportunities to build a foundation for sharing.
“Having a regular set of playmates over the years will encourage trust among friends. As your child develops that sense of trust, he will understand how to share with others,” Mosiman says.
Start Teaching Kids How to Share Early On
Teaching by example starts in infancy. Make it clear from your actions that you value fairness. Talk about what is “yours” and what is “mine” — moreover, about taking turns and sharing. With very young children, it helps to anticipate and avoid situations where the need to share will set off a temper tantrum. A favorite toy can be put away during a friend’s visit if it’s too great a treasure to share. If possible, have two of some toys available — find bargains at local yard sales!
Mosiman says by the age of 4, many children understand the idea of sharing and taking turns even if they are unable to put the concept into practice. Many 4-year-olds go to preschool where the major social goals are learning to cooperate, taking turns and respecting each others’ things. Talk to your child’s teacher to see how she handles grabbing or toy hoarding. Try implementing the school’s rules at home as well. The consistency of both environments can strengthen the message of sharing.
Handling Behavior in a Positive Way
Keep in mind that for a young child, learning to share is hard work. If your child grabs a toy from a sibling or playmate, resist the inclination to tell him he is “bad” for not sharing. Focus your commentary on the behavior instead of your child. For example, explain to him that the way he’s acting is unacceptable while reinforcing you still love him. Saying something like, “I don’t like seeing you grabbing the action figure away from your friend” separates your opinion of his behavior from your approval of him. In turn, be sure to praise and compliment your child when you see your child sharing and playing in a cooperative manner.
Hermitage mom of three Ginger Atteberry shares what works with her 5-year-old, Ryan, when he’s not in the sharing mood: “If he doesn’t want to share his toys when friends come over to play, I just take everything away and tell him, ‘If you and your friends can play nicely together you can have your toys back.’ It works every time,” she says.
As you work to instill the value of sharing in your child, it’s also important to make sure your child has the opportunity to develop a healthy sense of “mine.” No one should have to share everything all the time. Whether it’s a special toy, stuffed animal or security blanket that’s extra precious, reserving a few things for your child’s exclusive use will make it easier for him to share his other things.