Small children are loving, funny, and amazing in so many ways, but if there is a single problem that every parent can relate to it is this – young children are not always great at sharing. Whether it’s giving time on a swing to another child, sharing toys, splitting desired snacks with friends, or even sharing their parents with a sibling, they can find giving up a little of what they love tough. Dr Martha Erikson (a Supernanny expert) states that young children have a default policy of “what’s yours is mine” meaning that they are good at identifying and asking for (or taking) what they want, but not great at giving up or sharing what they want. Thankfully this is not an insurmountable issue!
Model the Behavior
Children need to see that sharing goes beyond other children and their toys. You can make the process of sharing toys, food, or even space more comfortable for your children by showing them that adults must also share. Make a point of sharing food or resources with your partner, friends, and your children to model the behavior you want them to pick up.
This can be as simple as splitting a chocolate bar with someone or offering your child the chance to hold or look at something you have in your hand.
Start at Home
A hectic and stimulating environment can be overwhelming for any child. As such, being asked to give over a toy or give up their space on a video game can be the last straw for many children. As such, it’s best to start teaching your children about sharing at home. Start small, for example sharing your snacks with your child and asking them to share toys with you. Be gentle but persistent and focus on asking and consideration of each other’s feelings.
This is also the perfect time to start dealing with refusals. Just as you want to raise a child who asks politely, has a generous nature, and maintains their own boundaries, they also need to learn how to be told no. This is tough for small children, so don’t become frustrated; as they age they will learn how to share, how to cope with being told no, and when to say no themselves.
Give Praise Where it’s Due
The world can be very overwhelming and scary for young children – after all, they are only just learning how to meet their own needs. This leaves very little time for them to consider the needs and desires of anyone else. So, rather than punishing or admonishing your children for not sharing, focus on praising them when they do share and explaining why it is important.
This gentle process may require a little more time, but it will get you and your child better results in the long-term. For example, if your child shares their toys or snacks happily with their sibling a few times in a week you could reward the behavior by getting some Chuck-E-Cheese coupons and taking them to the arcade.
Don’t Force Sharing
While it can be embarrassing when our children snatch toys away from others or refuse to share, it is important to remember that young children are still developing their empathic abilities. Forced sharing may teach them the wrong lessons (for example, crying gets results) and can lead to them feeling overwhelmed, angry, and leave them with the impression that their needs are not being met. Instead, take a leaf from the gentle parenting handbook.
Focus on encouraging your child to consider the feelings of others and mediate in order to allow them a role in the process of deciding how and when to share. This kind of process takes time, but can lead to children developing strong social skills and encourage a generous nature while still allowing them to have boundaries of their own.