Sharing is a fundamental social skill that is developed in childhood and lasts long into our lives. Not every child will have the same inclination to share, and that’s alright! No matter your child’s disposition, sharing can be taught. But what does healthy sharing look like? Here are some useful tips for helping children learn to share.
Show Respect and Empathy
At the root of sharing is respect. One must respect another person’s feelings, space, and belongings. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at around three-and-a-half, children begin to understand the concept of sharing. (The groundwork for teaching children about sharing can be laid for children as young as two.)
Developmentally, toddlers process their own wants and needs ahead of the wants and needs of others. This often makes sharing a strenuous and anxiety-inducing free-for-all as no one wants to be left out or left behind. Empathize with your child and talk to them about being conscious of other people’s feelings to ensure everyone has a good time.
Model Positive Behaviors
One way children learn is through examples: watching your behaviors will set a foundation for the way they interact with others. Demonstrate effective, respectful communication for your child. For example, to your partner or parent, say, “Of course you can borrow my big cooking dish! Could you please return it to me by Tuesday?” Firsthand examples of polite communication as both a borrower and lender will underscore the importance of respect.
When you borrow an item from a friend or loved one, make sure to return it better than you found it: wash it, for example. And always say thank you!
By modeling positive behaviors, you will inspire your child’s own actions. Let your little copycat take note of the way you navigate lending to and borrowing from your partner, parents, neighbors, friends, etc. They will see it is nothing to worry over!
Establish Rules and Boundaries
Ground rules will make the process of sharing feel not so scary. Helping children feel secure in sharing situations will give them comfort in being both a borrower and a lender. Create a plan if there is a forthcoming playdate and your child doesn’t like to share a certain toy. Set the toy aside before the playdate and talk with your child about letting a friend take a turn with the toy.
Sharing is also an early form of establishing boundaries. Let your child know they are allowed to set “terms” on how they share. If your child is resistant to lending a sibling or peer their favorite teddy, show them it is okay to offer an alternative option. For instance, your child might say, “This stuffed animal is my favorite. Would you be okay with this one?” If the alternative is not desired, your child’s next step can be to say, “Okay, but I’d like to have my stuffed animal back in ten minutes [or a time they feel comfortable with].” Letting your child know that time limits and other ground rules are okay for sharing will help ease their anxieties; it will eventually become second nature.
When children feel anxious about sharing they may use mean words or brash actions, such as grabbing or bartering. Intervene immediately if you observe these behaviors in your child’s interactions with siblings or peers. Take a mindful moment with them to just breathe, resettle, and talk about the benefits of sharing with others.
Consume Good Content
Reading and consuming content that illustrates good sharing is another vital step in fostering this lifelong skill. At this age, looking to literary role models is a good step in presenting the idea of sharing to your little one! When you notice an example of good sharing in a film or TV show, point it out to your child. Having onscreen role models and strong media examples of sharing will give your child confidence in their own sharing experiences.
Sharing is a form of love: we share with others in order to continue fostering genuine connections. Your child will benefit from good sharing skills, now and in the future.