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Sharing is a concept that many young children find difficult to master, and it’s especially tough for children aged under 6. This is because, developmentally, children aged under 6 are usually still concrete learners who find abstract ideas tricky to understand.
While an ideal world would be one in which all children played happily and cooperatively with their siblings and peers, parents and professional know that the real world is a vastly different place.
So how can we teach our kids to share?
Firstly, we need to understand that it’s developmentally appropriate for children of the same age to have similar interests and to want the same things.
If your children are quite close in age, you might find that they not only squabble over the same toys, but that they also compete for your attention…all the time!
They all seem to want what their brother, sister or peer has, and they don’t understand why they can’t have it!
Children who refuse to share are not necessarily being selfish.
It’s normal for very young children to be attached to special toys which are familiar and symbolise security.
When we parents demand that our child share their special possession, we sometimes interrupt important play and force them to surrender something that makes them feel safe and secure.
And when that happens, it’s never going to end well!
Don’t be the referee
There are lots of things that you can do to help your child learn to share, but perhaps the most important is to avoid the temptation to get involved in your children’s spats.
Kids who rely on their parents to come to the rescue and to settle disputes miss out on the opportunity to develop key problem-solving skills.
And as soon as you intervene, you also run the risk of unintentionally giving the impression that you favour one child over the other.
Another occurrence that’s not going to end well!
3 rules for sharing
Kids who know how to share have usually been taught simple, but easy to follow rules that can be implemented in any environment.
- If you want to use something that belongs to someone else, you must ask first
Teaching our children not to grab what they want and to wait until it is offered is a basic play skill that is needed for social success at preschool and school. You can encourage the development of this skill by practicing it in other contexts, such as the dinner table, where you can model good sharing behaviours to your children.
- When someone asks to share your toys, it’s not okay to simply say ‘no’
While your children shouldn’t have to automatically hand over their toy just because another child wants it, it’s equally important to teach your children that they must have a reason for their decision. Teach your children to respond with words like ‘let’s take turns’ or ‘that’s my new toy and it’s special, but you can play with any of these.’ When you do this, you’re encouraging our child to be logical and to compromise.
- Play fairly, or the toy will go into time out
Sometimes, kids just need a bit help as they learn to play and share. Providing your children with a clock or timer so that each child has an equal chance to play with the toy can be a useful strategy for under 6’s because it’s a visual tactic that matches their level of development. But if all else fails, the toy might have to be removed until such time as the children can play cooperatively with one another. Through this, you are teaching your child that their behaviour has consequences.
Focus on the right things
It’s easy to focus on the negative when kids are playing.
When children are playing, it’s common to only notice what they are doing when voices start to be raised and the squabbling starts.
One of the best strategies for encouraging good sharing skills is to notice your children when they are doing the right thing.
Always give specific praise like ‘Well done. You shared your train with your little brother. That was a friendly thing to do’
Children innately want and seek their parents’ approval, so when you tell your child exactly what he or she has done well, you are more likely to see a repeat of that positive behaviour.
© 2017 Kids First Children’s Services
Do your children’s struggle to share? Kids First’s Psychologists have helped hundreds of parents with practical strategies that work.
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