How can I teach my child to share?

Imagine the scene: a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old happen upon a pile of toy trains. The younger child picks up two of the trains. Instead of picking up any remaining trains, the older child reaches over to grab the trains the younger child is holding. The 2-year-old grabs them back—knocking the other child off balance—and both children start crying.

Most parents try to instill the concept of sharing in their children from a young age. While it sounds simple, learning to share is quite a complex life skill for children to master.

A two-year-old’s grasp of the idea of having to share a toy is quite different from how a four or five-year-old sees sharing. Children have difficulty sharing, especially young children. This is a normal part of the development process.

Children must learn to share, make and maintain friendships, play cooperatively, take turns, negotiate, and deal with disappointment. Children learn about compromise and fairness through sharing. They understand giving a little so others can get some of what we want.

Sharing is an important part of getting along with others. It becomes increasingly important as your child begins to have playdates and attend child care, preschool, or kindergarten.

How can I teach my child to share?

Sharing is an important part of getting along with others. It becomes increasingly important as your child begins to have playdates and attend child care, preschool, or kindergarten.

Additionally, children require opportunities to learn about and practice sharing. Here are some suggestions for promoting sharing in everyday life:

Make it fun

Teach your child cooperative games in which he has to work together with others, rather than competitive games which focus on winning. You could try doing a jigsaw puzzle together, taking turns to add pieces. Or you could blow up a balloon and play keep-it-up.

Share projects: water the plants, sweep the floor, or unpack the shopping together.

Don’t punish your child for not sharing.

It can be embarrassing to see your child snatching a teddy from his friend or throwing a tantrum because his turn with the trains ended. But if you tell your child that he’s selfish or force him to hand over his prized possession, he may get the message that sharing has negative consequences.

Remember that it’s natural for your child to want to keep some items to himself as he develops a sense of what it means to own something. Rest assured that as he matures, he’ll learn that sharing with friends is much more fun than playing alone.

Talk it out

If he’s reluctant to share a particular toy, ask him why. Maybe you’ll discover a shortage of train tracks at his nursery or that he especially prizes his football cards because they were a present from Grandad.

Teach your child to problem-solve

If your little one has a firm grip on a toy truck that his playmate wants, the concept of sharing the truck may not even have occurred to him. Encourage your child to take turns with the truck. Setting a kitchen timer to mark each child’s turn may help.

Reassure him that sharing isn’t the same as giving away, and point out that if he shares his toys with friends, they’ll be more inclined to share theirs with him.

Respect your child’s possessions

If your preschooler feels that his clothes, books, and toys may be lost or damaged, he’ll be less willing to share them. So ask permission before letting his sister borrow his coloring pencils and give him the option of saying no.

Make sure his siblings and friends respect his things by encouraging them to ask if they can use them and take care of them when they do.

Set a good example

The best way for your three or four-year-old to learn generosity is to witness it. So share your ice cream with him. Offer him your scarf for a superhero’s cape, and ask if you can try on his new hat.

Use the word “share” to describe what you’re doing, and let your child know you can share a story, feeling, ideas, and material things. Most importantly, let him see you give and take, compromise, and share with others.

While it is important to share, it is also acceptable for children to have some toys that they keep exclusively for themselves. When other children come to play at your house, it’s a good idea to put these special toys away. This can assist you in avoiding issues with sharing. It also demonstrates to your child that you recognize the value of certain items.

If your child finds sharing challenging, it’s a good idea to stay nearby when your child plays with other children and encourage your child, so they don’t forget to share. When your child does try to share, you can say exactly what your child did well and how proud you are.

Learning to share with grace is a long process. Even some adults are still working on it! Rather than dreading moments of the struggle between children, consider them to be rich opportunities to help children learn critical skills—in this case, self-regulation, empathy, and conflict resolution—all of which will help them become better at sharing.