We all get it – that sinking feeling in our stomach when we realize there is only one more scoop of ice cream in the carton and there are three people who want some. We are going to have to share it.
Sharing is not something that comes naturally to people. It is not something we always like to do. But, as we grow, we realize it is the kind thing to do. And if we share with other people, they are more likely to share with us. Children have not yet gained that insight. Just like children need support in learning to walk, talk, and read, they need our support in learning to share.
Sharing involves empathy – understanding another person’s point of view and/or experience. Children under the age of six are generally not capable of empathy, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to share. Statements like “share your toys” do not give children the information they need to be successful. Even though you cannot expect your child to share, you can take steps to support them in developing this ability.
- Point out when you see your child sharing, “Look how much fun you and Mariah are having sharing the ball by rolling it back and forth.” Words like these help define sharing for children so they understand the concept. They also help children start to see the value in sharing.
- Model sharing for your child, especially when they are in conflict over an object. “You both want that truck. Let’s sit down and share it. First, I roll it to you, then you roll it to Axel. When we share it, we can all play.
- Exhibit sharing behavior: You also model sharing when you share what you have with others or with your child. Use words to point out how you’re sharing and how it makes you feel good to share with others.
- Set up opportunities for sharing: Create situations in which children can share with others. For example, have a big bowl of popcorn ready for movie night and encourage your child to help scoop some into bowls so everyone can share it. Make sure to use the word “sharing” and point out how all can enjoy the popcorn once everyone has some.
While you cannot expect your young child to always share, there will be times when it happens. Acknowledge these times so children associate the act with the good feeling that comes from being kind in this world and sharing with others.