It can be frustrating and embarrassing when your typically sweet little child refuses to share. Fortunately, this is totally normal and there are things you can do to help. Sharing is a complicated social skill that your child will learn with the help of your guidance and plenty of practice.
First, let’s discuss why young children have such a difficult time sharing. They don’t have many possessions at their age, and they usually have strong attachments to the few belongings that are specifically theirs. They also have a hard time sharing new toys in a playdate setting because everything is new and exciting, and they want to be able to play with those new toys as much as possible.
Young children may not understand that they can have another turn in the near future, and they may not understand that sharing is not the same as giving a toy away forever. They worry that their prized possession or wonderful new discovery may never be theirs again.
Think about one of your own most valued possessions: Your phone, your computer, your car. Now if a friend borrowed that thing for the day, you might feel nervous and uncertain. You would worry about whether or not it would come back to you safely. And you might be unsettled while it’s in someone else’s possession. These feelings are at the root of your child struggling to share.
Here are some tips to help your child learn how to share appropriately - without tears or anxiety:
Understand that sharing can be hard. Simply having empathy that this isn’t a minor issue can go a long way in providing the support your child needs.
Model sharing behavior. Make it a point to share your things with your child, and talk about what you’re doing: “Would you like a turn using my calculator? I will share it with you. It’s nice to take turns.”
Have your child practice sharing with you. Sharing with parents feels much safer to a young child than sharing with a peer. They know that you will be careful, and they trust that you will give the object back when you’re done. This is a great starting point for practicing sharing. Include the commentary while practicing sharing, “Thank you for letting me play with your toy. You shared so nicely, and it made me happy.”
Offer choices to your child. Sometimes, simply rephrasing your words from a demand to a question can help encourage sharing,“Anneli would like to play with a stuffed animal. Which one would you like to share with your friend?”
Create sharing opportunities. Board games and yard games provide many opportunities for children to share and work cooperatively with other children - it’s a great non-threatening way to share. Younger children can benefit from situations where there are plenty of parts for everyone to have their own while still sharing the activity - bring out play dough, crayons and coloring books, mini car collections, or building blocks. It is easier to share when there are plenty of pieces for everyone.
Prepare your child. Explain to your child what will be happening in advance of playdates. Discuss how fun it will be for them to play with the guest. Assure your child that all her toys will all still be hers after the friend leaves, but she needs to share with her friend while the friend is at your home.
Put special possessions away. When a friend is coming over to play, it’s best to allow your child to choose some of his favorite things to put away so that he doesn’t have to worry about sharing them with his friend. When you don’t require your child to share everything, he should be happier to share only the things he selects.
Praise sharing behavior. If your child shares, even briefly, praise her for it. Try to keep an eye out for those glimpses of positive behaviors so that you can encourage it to happen more often.
Don’t punish. If your child is struggling with sharing, it means that he needs to learn more about the process. Be patient and teach your child instead of punishing him. Punishment rarely succeeds in creating positive sharing behavior.
Don’t demand. It is okay for certain toys to be exempt from sharing rules. A child should not be expected to share a brand new gift, favorite doll, the stuffed animal that they sleep with, or fragile toys that could get broken. Removing these certain favorites from the sharing pool will help decrease your child’s anxiety about it and increase the willingness to share other things.
Don’t embarrass. You might have prepped your child with all of these steps and set up a good environment for sharing, and your child still might refuse to share. If you need to speak to your child about sharing, do it in a private area so that you can discuss it calmly and create a plan together. Public shaming is not effective.
Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating, and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Check out her latest book available to purchase on Amazon, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns. For more information, visit elizabethpantley.com.
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