Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Learning to Share

We all know that “Sharing is Caring,” as the common phrase goes. However, teaching your child to share can be a daunting task. Some children will pick it up just fine, while others will have a harder time. Either way, it is an important developmental and social skill that needs to be learned. We as parents can play a big role in teaching our children to share.
Start Young

One of the best things you can do is to start at a very young age, even as early as 6 months. I started by trying to make sharing a fun game. I would hand my son a toy, he would play with it a little and hand it back and I would say “Thank you,” with a big smile. He would then reach for it back, I would give it to him and then he would give it back again and I would say it again. Sometimes he would just reach out like he was giving it to me, but not actually give it to me, if this happened, I wouldn’t say anything until he actually gave it to me. He caught on very fast and it was his favorite “game” for months. Now at 12 months if he is playing with something I ask kindly, “Can I see?” or “Come show Mommy,” and he will hand it right over. It is a simple way to get them in the habit of sharing young.

Be an Example

Your children are ALWAYS watching you. Be sure to show them and verbally explain when you are sharing something. This could be something you are sharing with them, with another child, or with your spouse. If they see you share, they are much more likely to be willing to share themselves.

Praise the Positive

Unfortunately we often spend a lot of time scolding poor behavior we forget to acknowledge good behavior. When you see your child share, be sure to let them know how happy you are and how proud you are of them. It is also a good idea to point out how happy it made the other child when they shared. This will encourage them to share again since it was a positive experience.

Sometimes it is OK to Not Share

It is a good idea to have a few toys that are only for your child, ones that they do not have to share. When you are having a play-date ask your child which toys they are willing to share and which ones they aren’t. Put the ones they don’t want to share away; out of sight, out of mind. This will help prevent any problems that could have happened and still allow your child to feel like some toys are just for him. Keep this in mind when attending play-date as well. It might not be a good idea to bring a child’s favorite toy if you know they are not willing to share it. Leave the special toys at home.

Take it Away

If a certain toy seems to be causing problems among the children, take that toy away. Especially when the child is still very young, under 5, they have a harder time sharing because it is a tough concept to grasp and young children are very possessive. When problems arise, just take it away. It might make them all upset for a minute or two, but soon they will be distracted by another toy and forget all about it.


If your child does not seem to be catching on to the concept of sharing try Role-Playing with them. Get on the floor and play with one of their toys. If they ask for it, say "No" and keep playing with it yourself. When they get upset, take the opportunity to talk to them about how they felt when you said you wouldn’t share. Remind them that this is how others feel when he doesn’t share with them. Then next time you are at a play-date and he is hesitant to share, remind him of how he felt when you didn’t share with him. This little role-play can work wonders in helping your child understand the complex concept of sharing.

Start Off Small

Remember that sharing is a hard concept for children to understand. They do not fully understand it until about age 5. However, starting small with a few basic rules like waiting your turn or if you bring your toy to a play-date, then everyone there gets to play with it can help them learn and implement sharing at an early stage. Try not to get upset when they aren’t sharing, and gently teach and remind them of why it is important to share.
Like all developmental tasks, it takes time.

What are your experiences with teaching children to share?
What has/hasn't worked for you?



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