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It’s Mine! – How To Teach Kids About Sharing

It’s as unavoidable as throwing a tantrum in public and not wanting to go to bed. It may even be the moment that officially moves your child from the infancy category to the baby category.

Today, we’re talking about the almost-universal aversion to sharing. 

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A unicorn child may exist somewhere in the world who has always been excellent at sharing, but they’re the stuff of legend. It’s best to assume they never exist instead of getting your hopes up that your kid may be “the one.”

If it’s going to be something every parent has to teach their child, there’s no sense in kicking the can down the road. Let’s roll up our sleeves and talk about what we can do to teach our kids how to share.

Share & Share Alike

Sharing isn’t something we as humans do naturally well. Think about your day as an adult. Did you get mad when someone took “your” parking spot at work? Did you snatch one extra doughnut from the break room so you wouldn’t have to share them with anyone else? Are there things you don’t want anyone else touching?

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So, first things first, give your kid a break if they’re not sharing well. Science Kids don’t intellectually understand the concept of sharing until they’re 5 years old. Everything we do to work with them before that is practicing something they don’t entirely grasp. So, again, give them a break.

As you work on the concept of sharing with your children, keep these things in mind.

  • Kids’ ages matter: Your child’s age will have a huge affect on how (or if) you work on their sharing skills.
    • Obviously, babies have no idea how to share. If they’re younger than 12 months old, don’t worry about sharing. (Doing so is an exercise in futility.) 
    • Kids who are 3-5 years old are capable of seeing things from others’ points of view, so working on their sharing skills is a good thing. 
    • However, kids under 3 years old don’t have that skill yet. For them, the concept of what’s “fair” is very lopsided in their favor. Toddlers aren’t going to understand at all why they suddenly have to hand something they want to someone else. Have lots of patience with them as you teach them why sharing is important. 
  • Set aside special toys: Just like your favorite mug at work or the box of candy you kept hidden somewhere, there are some things that just don’t get shared. Extend that rule to your kids, too. Pick one or two toys that they know they don’t have to share with anyone. However, let your little one know that those special toys will be put away when other kids are over.
  • Focus on taking turns: Kids are super perceptive, which is great and terrible at the same time. In terms of sharing, your kids have probably picked up on the fact that when you as a parent use the word “share,” it doesn’t always mean they get their stuff back. (Sharing food is a perfect example.) Instead of focusing on sharing, focus instead on taking turns. Your kid knows the toy is coming back to them and it’s not being taken away forever. 
  • Parenting pro tip: Kids can get possessive of the weirdest things. (But don’t we all?) That could mean a certain color of crayon or a particular spoon. Not everything can be duplicated, but think about having multiple sets of certain things like markers or sippy cups so there isn’t constant fussing between two 

To Share or Not To Share

We’ve already established that sharing is hard and doesn’t come naturally for us as people. It’s an important skill, but occasionally parents can make it unnecessarily hard for kids.

Brandi Davis with The Center for Parenting Education puts it this way: “When was the last time you walked into someone’s home who was knitting and their significant other took some of their yarn and gave it to you? You would think that was kinda weird right? Like, really weird. The knitter was in the middle of something and now he/she will not be able to finish. Yet many adults have such disregard for the work of a young child.”

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So the next time you facilitate playtime, rethink sharing. If a child is in the middle of playing with blocks, reading a book, or drawing, let them finish their task with the supplies in front of them without forcing them to hand them over to another child. At the same time, create activities that ask the kids to work together to create or accomplish something. Sharing resources and asking that the kids work together is an equally valuable skill. It also allows you to have a conversation with them if they begin to hoard toys — the ultimate goal is to work together, so they need to share in order to accomplish that goal.

(Keep in mind that this kind of thinking is going to be easier for older kids. If you’re working with toddlers, the concept of “word together” probably won’t make sense. Continue to work on taking turns and gradually fit in this concept as they get older.)

Books About Sharing

Books and stories can give kids great examples of what it looks like (and doesn’t look like) to share. Check these out at your local library and read them along with your kids.

  • “Pigs and a Blanket” by James Burks
  • “That’s (Not) Mine” by Anna Kang
  • “Rita & Ralph’s Rotten Day” by Carmen Agra Deedy
  • “Dozens of Doughnuts” by Carrie Finison
  • “Can I Play Too?” by Samantha Cotterill
  • “All for Me and None for All” by Helen Lester
  • “Bear & Hare Share” by Emily Gravett
  • “Me Love to Share with Cookie Monster” by Marie-Therese Miller
  • “Should I Share My Ice Cream?” by Mo Willems

Sharing is a learned skill, for sure. The more often kids are put in positions to share and see examples of what good sharing looks like, the more likely they’ll be to act it out in their own life. And remember (as if it hasn’t been said enough): This is not natural for kids. Don’t shame them when they don’t seem to be getting the hang of sharing, especially if they’re in the toddler or pre-K stages of life. They’ll catch on eventually. Before long, they’ll be that great example that other kids look to and emulate.

Check out some of our additional parenting tips and tricks at littlesunshine.com/blog/.

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