How many times has a happy playdate been interrupted by arguments along the lines of “That’s mine!”, “I want it!”, “Give it to me” and “He won’t share”? 

Teaching your children to share is one of the hardest and most important things to do. Young children find it hard to let go of objects which they think are theirs, the concept that it will be returned is difficult for a toddler to grasp. 

However, sharing is an important life skill. Firstly, it will allow your children to interact positively in playgroup, school and social settings. Secondly, it cultivates an open mindset which in future means that when they work with others, they will be able to listen and express views regarding a task or a challenge. By sharing thoughts and ideas, your children will become effective leaders, communicators and partners in any relationship. 

Make Sharing a Part of Your Family Life

As with all values, it is important to teach them holistically – as a part of your family’s values and life choices. Here are some of the ways in which you can incorporate sharing into your family life.

Start Young and Explain Why Sharing is Important

Teach your children to share early by explaining the importance of sharing in simple terms which they will understand. Talk about how it will help them to make and keep friends, how friends share with each other and how it is a way to show you love and care for another person. Singapore’s National Libraries also have several books for toddlers and children which you can read together about the importance of sharing. 

Lead by Example

Young children learn by imitating their parents. Model good sharing behaviours, let your children see you share with them and with other members of the family. Point out examples of other people being kind and sharing when you go out together. The more examples your children see, the more they will understand the concept of sharing.

Share Beyond Toys and Food

Most parents concentrate on getting their kids to share the basics – toys and food, because these are the items which are most frequently fought over. However, you need to teach them to think beyond pure material possessions when it comes to sharing. Teach them to share time, for example, to take turns for cuddles with mummy. Teach them also that effort can be shared, for example, they might need to take turns on the swing because daddy can only push one child at a time.  

Teach Sharing by Donating to Charities

Another way to help your children understand how powerful sharing can be is by participating in a local charity. Explain to them that donations of gently used goods, your time and volunteer services help to benefit others and to make the world a better place.

Practical Tips for Parents

Even if you are able to establish sharing as a family value, the act of sharing itself can still be difficult for some children. Here are a few practical tips to help you address some of the issues which may come up.

Give Them a Choice

Demanding that your children share a treasured possession is confrontational, but giving them a choice allows the discussion to move from one of conflict to one of involvement and discussion. You can give your children the choice to share or for the item to go into a “time-out” in which no-one gets to play with it. 

Don’t Always Expect Them to Share

There will always be certain items which are so treasured and so personal that it will be difficult to ask your child to share them. Allow your children to choose which items they don’t want to share before other children come over for a playdate. Put these items away so they won’t be available for play, but explain to your children that they too will not have access to these special toys until after the playdate is over.

Use Different Terms

If your children refuse to share, try to use different and less controversial terms. Borrowing and taking turns are good terms to use. In very young children, sometimes the resistance to sharing might occur because they don’t really understand the full meaning of the word. 

Try Using a Timer

If you get caught in a situation where a certain toy needs to be shared use a timer and tell your children that each child will get the same amount of time with the toy. This way, the decision of when to switch over will be seen as fair.

Deal with Meltdowns Calmly

There will be times when young children will find the message to share too difficult and you will sometimes face situations when your children scream and cry. If this occurs, bring your children to the side, sit with them and talk to them to make sure that there aren’t any other issues which might be causing the problem. Explain why sharing is important and, if possible, get your children involved in an alternative activity until their emotions settle down. 

Praise and Encourage Them

Whenever your children share make sure that you praise and encourage them. Recognise the big effort they have made and thank them for it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Teach your children the importance of sharing when they are young.

  • Make sharing a part of your family life and values.

  • Praise and reinforce sharing behaviours.