Sharing can be a difficult skill for children to learn. So how can we encourage kids to share?
Ah, sharing. If I had a penny every time I heard a parent tell their child to ‘share’, I’d be a very rich woman.
I think it is fair to say that every parent and every child has had some experience of issues around sharing, from their own childhood and into their own parenting.
Sharing is one of those things that most of us want our children to be able to do independently, but it is also something that children often struggle with, especially younger children. It is a leading cause of arguments, frustration and resentment, especially between siblings!
In 3 words: It. Is. Hard!
My own experience of sharing
I have experienced a huge range of sharing issues over my time of parenting my own 3 boys, as well as during my long career supporting young children. I think it is fair to say that this experience has given me a LOT of insight into sharing.
When my own children were younger, I remember a few occasions where I have watched each of my children take things that other children were using, which didn’t belong to them; in the park, in the soft play area, and at friends houses. In those moments, I remember feeling a range of emotions, from shame that my children were not being ‘kind’, to the embarrassment of being ‘judged’ as parent based on this behaviour (which had me shuffling over to my kids and urging them to return the ‘stolen’ item, red faced and hoping the other child’s parent hadn’t noticed!). I also felt a strange sense of pride that my child could exercise assertiveness over something he wanted.
Of course, these situations had nothing to do with my children being unkind or assertive, and everything to do with curiosity of new and interesting objects, emerging social skills, and a developmentally appropriate lack of awareness of boundaries and social expectations.
It probably goes without saying that I have also witnessed my own children being on the receiving end of sharing difficulties, and I don’t think there is a parent out there with more than 1 child who hasn’t experienced the joy of petty sibling squabbles!!
In my professional life as a Reception teacher (kindergarten teacher for my American audience), sharing is something I deal with on a daily basis. Children squabble over sharing everything and anything, be it a toy, space, or attention from others. I understand how frustrating this is for lots of adults and children, however I truly believe sharing is not a difficult thing to teach children.
So how do you approach sharing?
What can I do as a parent to support my child to learn to share?
I believe the right attitude here is vital; if you as a parent can approach the situation with empathy, understanding and reflection, then you have already battled half the problem.
*Empathy – if you can consider your own experience of sharing, and how you feel in a range of situations, then you begin to understand your child’s complex emotions around sharing. Can you understand why your child reacted in a certain way? If it was you, would you prefer a warning before you’re forced to share? Would you want to share with a stranger? Try to think like your child and enter their world.
*Understanding – there are 2 elements to understanding. Firstly, by understanding the skills children need to be able to develop to become good at sharing, you are able to give your child realistic goals and expectations on sharing. Secondly, by taking time to understand your child as a person and the way they react to certain situation, you can gain a whole lot of insight to their actions.
*Reflection – put yourself in their shoes – what is it that is making your child struggle to share? Are they struggling to express themselves effectively? Are they struggling with social development? By truly reflecting on the situation and any barriers to success your child may face, you will be able to figure out how to support them better.
What skills are involved with effective sharing?
My own experiences and education have allowed me to reflect on something: sharing takes a lot of different skills, from every party involved (including the parent!):
*Negotiation skills, to negotiate the situation effectively and achieve a satisfactory outcome for everyone involve
*Confidence, to act on what has happened and be assertive (more on raising confident and independent kids here)
*Problem solving skills, to work out a fair solution when it may not necessarily be obvious
*Empathy, to care about the feelings of other parties involved, and consider how they might be feeling
*Reasoning skills, to reasonably assess what has happened, and reason what could be effective next time
*Understanding, to be able to consider the cause of the disagreement and what is happening during the situation
*Resilience, to recover from challenging situations (more on building resilience here)
*Humility, to accept when actions may have been less than effective
*Self reflection skills, to learn from experiences around sharing, and consider the future
*Emotional regulation, to keep emotions in check during stressful encounters
*Patience, to wait for the desired outcome (more on promote patience in your child here)
*Creativity, to think of different ways to approach problems (more on promoting creativity here)
Wow, when you think about it, that is a lot of necessary skills. Is it really any wonder that sharing is such a difficult thing to comprehend for children?!
How can I encourage my child to share effectively?
Here are my top tips to encourage your child to become really great at sharing.
*Encourage the skills listed above, from as early as possible. There is a lot involved in encouraging sharing, and the more well rounded skills your child develops, the more likely they will be to develop successful habits such as sharing. (If you need personalised support on how to develop these skills in your individual child, please feel free to add a reply at the bottom of this post, or send me a message).
*Model good relationships. Children notice everything, but especially the things you don’t want them to! By providing them with a positive role model of sharing and cooperation, your child will be soaking this in from their environment. Consider carefully and honestly how you treat those around you, and what your child may be witnessing.
*Understand your child’s developmental capabilities. It can be very easy to expect too much of our children from an early age, which can set them up to fail. This is equally as important for the reverse situation too, and it can be easy to baby children, or make excuses for their behaviour. Know the rough stage of development your child is at, and what it is possible for them to achieve so you can have realistic expectations for your child.
*Teach your child about personal boundaries. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I feel like sometimes children are forced to share too much. Think about it, would you want to share a brand new item with someone you didn’t know? Or give something to someone you had literally just picked up? Probably not. I believe it is important for children to know their own boundaries, and to be able to express them in a kind but confident manner. For example, you can support your child to develop a range of firm responses, such as ‘I have only just started playing with this. I am happy to give it to you when I have finished though’, or ‘this is my special toy, but I can help you find your own if you like’. This is equally important for understanding other children’s boundaries.
*Model empathy. As well as helping you to better understand your child, empathy helps your child to understand other people’s feelings in difficult situations. Have regular conversations about how other people might be feeling in a range of different situations.
*Let your child fight their own battles. As a parent, I appreciate this can be tough – we have an ingrained desire to protect our children from harm. However, if you can stand back for as long as possible and observe rather that intervene, this gives your child valuable time to learn and grow as a person. Of course, there are times when you will need to intervene, but try to give it just a few more seconds than you would normally.
*Use toys and books. If your child is old enough, using toys such as dolls, dinosaurs and puppets (basically anything your child is interested in), and books about sharing can be a really effective to teach children about taking turns. Whether you use them to practice sharing and turn taking, or to role play different scenarios surrounding sharing, there is nothing more engaging to children than play to teach them new skills.
*Give your child time with other children. This goes without saying really, but children need time with other children to perfect these skills. Consider play dates, child care, drop in play session – essentially any place where your child will encounter children of their own age.
Of course many of these tips will take lots of time, effort, and consistency, especially if your child is very young. However, in my opinion it is never too early to start laying the foundations of good sharing skills.
I hope this has helped you to consider your role in supporting you child to develop strong sharing skills. If you have tried any of my top tips I’d love to hear some feedback about your experiences, so feel free to leave a reply in the comments section below.
Love, Heather x
PS. If you’ve found this article useful, please check out my other blog posts.