“Sharing is caring” is often said, but I wonder: do we hold children to standards us adults don’t even manage? Do you like sharing because you are told to? I know I don’t always want to share, particularly if it’s someone I have just met at a Starbucks. It’s the same for your child at a playgroup.
Teaching children to share may take some time but it will save a lot of arguments in the long run and build skills for later life.
Here are some ideas worth considering. Remember, it will take time and consistency to build new habits and behaviours. Patience and supervision may be required whilst they are learning new skills.
1) Sharing really should be a choice: Don’t force your children to share but encourage them to decide to do so when they are ready. This builds empathy
and will avoid resentment and you being accused of taking sides. It will also stop you playing referee later on. Notice when your child shares and feedback
that it’s a kind thing to do (and maybe give them a high five!)
2) Teach by example: Children learn from those around them, so it is good to model the behaviour you want. Ask to play with a toy, briefly play with it if they
consent, and then hand it back with a big thanks for sharing.
3) Use your words: Help children to use their words to navigate sharing rather than snatching or grabbing. It can slow things down and help build better
communication by setting expectations, and negotiating. “Can I have a go with that please?”, “I am not done with it yet, please wait” or they could try “I need
longer, when I am done you can have it then”, “Yes, but can I have it back before bed time?” As an adult you can help with this too by reminding the
children what was agreed: “I see you’re not playing with the action figure any more. Remember that Lucy is waiting for a turn, do you want to take it to her?”
4) Name the difficulties of sharing: Often, claims “its mine,” are all clues that your child does not want to share so its good to explore why. Are they afraid
the other child will break the toy? Do they think they won’t get it back? Help address their concerns, and also explain that trusting others and sharing will
encourage reciprocal sharing.
5) Help with the big feelings: “It can be difficult and disappointing when you can’t have the toy train because someone is still using it”. “It’s tough to wait
and you might have to play with something else unless it is your turn”. Naming the disappointment, and helping your child to tolerate it, will be an essential
way to help your child. This will also prevent children developing a sense of entitlement to everything and anything – teaching them that they can’t always
have what they want, or that they may have to wait.
6) Practice turn taking when it is not required: Whether its playing ball or whose using the bathroom first, you can introduce turn taking and waiting
when it’s not critical. Naming whose turn it is, ensuring everyone gets equal choice of what to watch on TV. You can use counting or an egg timer for small
7) Toys that don’t have to be shared: It’s important to establish if a toy is for the house or a toy that belongs to a particular child, e.g. a birthday gift.
Certain significant or special items should not have to be shared, it is good for everyone to know they have something that is very much theirs. Such items
could be given a safe space to be kept; maybe their favourite teddy lives on their bed and is off limits to others. This helps teach respect for boundaries. If
your child is having friends over, suggest they put away toys they don’t want to share, and remind them that anything left out might want to be played with
or used by others.
8) Swapping toys: Trading toys may be useful, to help with sharing and may help kids navigate when there are a number of toys to play with. It can help
with negotiation skills, but be aware that how children value items won’t necessarily be in monetary terms so you might want to designate certain
items as not for trading (or risk an iPad being swapped for a jar of frogspawn!)
9) Teach “When… Then…”: Explain to your children about the consequences if not being able to agree on sharing leads to inappropriate behaviour. Teach
your children, that When there is too much arguing or even fighting, Then the toys may have to go away for a while.
10) If all else fails! Some children may struggle to share, even with the help of the above techniques, so it is good to teach them that – if all else fails – and
they cannot agree to share, that they can ask an adult for help or support before things become heated!