Teaching Your Child to Share: What Doesn't Work

Single ParentsSitting on the porch, you watch Anna, your two-year-old, playing in the yard with Matt, the only child in the neighborhood who is close to your daughter's age. Matt shovels sand into a bucket and Anna scoops sand into her truck. Suddenly, your daughter screams, "NO!" and turns away from Matt clutching the truck while sand pours down the front of her outfit. Intervening, you ask what happened. "I want truck," pouts Matt. Upon hearing Matt's request again, Anna, cradles her possession and screams "NO, MINE!" As you try to persuade both children into a compromise, you wonder if your precious child will ever learn to share.

As your child grows, new experiences bombard her daily. Much of her world is perplexing. The concept of sharing is one of these confusing parts of life for a small child. Understanding the idea of giving something away and getting it back takes time. While preschoolers find sharing baffling, they also find it fascinating. They may share certain things or at certain times, and when together in group play, they will discuss who will share what. As complicated as it is for a child to comprehend the adult world, an adult may have just as much difficulty deciphering a child's interpretation of the world. Understanding why your child doesn't share will help enable you to promote sharing.

Why Your Child Doesn't Share
Your child has just mastered the concept of ownership and sees little reason to relinquish anything. Asking her to share something she owns is confusing to your child. She doesn't understand that something she gives away may be returned, says Lawrence Kutner, author of Toddlers and Preschoolers. In fact, many times when we ask toddlers to share something, we really mean for them to give it away and not expect it to be returned, like sharing cookies. This further confuses the concept of sharing.

Children at this age are also highly concerned about fairness. Fairness to a young child simply means that no one gets more than he did. Of course, if he gets more than everyone else, that, too, is fair. Your three-year-old may insist on splitting the dessert evenly with his fifteen-year-old brother, even though he could never finish his half, because that makes it fair. Sometimes, if a child has to share, the results will be unfair in his mind.

Kids, and people in general, are more comfortable sharing something that is not highly valued. Of course, the value of a particular item can quickly increase when asked to share it. For youngsters, every item they have is valuable simply because they have it. Therefore, sharing becomes difficult.

Quantity also plays a major role in sharing. If there are only two crayons or toy cars left in the box, your child will have a hard time sharing. It generally won't matter to your preschooler if he has five stuffed animals. They are all different, therefore he only has one of each and cannot share.

Whether or not your child shares may reflect how secure she is feeling at the moment. According to Kutner, the more secure she feels, the more willing she will be to share. If you have just reprimanded your child, or if her older sister has been calling her names, she won't be very eager to share one of her toys.

What Does Not Work

When trying to inspire your child to share, it is important to use effective strategies. Some tactics may actually damage your child's sense of self. The following approaches are commonly used, but can be dangerous.

1. Don't expect too much too early.
When you ask your child to share a toy, you are really asking him to take a risk by giving up something that's precious. Once that toy is given away, your child fears he will never see it again. If he resists and you push, all you're teaching your child is to comply with authority.

2. Don't force your child to share everything.
Some possessions are so emotionally laden that they should retain their special status by not being shared. Don't insist that your toddler bring her favorite toy to school or day care. Children in these environments view all toys as common property. It may be too threatening for your child to have other children insisting on playing with her most important possession.

3. Don't threaten to take away a toy if your child doesn't share.
Again, this teaches your child to comply with authority and also destroys the concept of ownership. When your child knows that he has to give something away or it will be taken from him, he learns that he has no control over anything.


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