“Share your toy!”
That’s a common phrase uttered by parents, usually in a social setting when their child is playing with others. It’s also pretty common for parents to face difficulties in getting their child to share. So why is this?
Let’s break this down and begin from the child’s perspective. Your child is between 2 and 3 years old. He/she has mastered walking and running. There are many things that your child can now do independently like eating or drinking. When your child speaks, he/she sees that others listen and pay attention to the sounds and words spoken.
All these combined gives your child a newfound sense of identity and independence in his/her world. Along with this comes a sense of ownership. Your child starts to think “I am my own person and these things that I have belong to me. They are mine.” At this stage, your child perceives the world as centering around him/he and has little regard for others. This doesn’t mean that your child is self-centred. It just means that he/she is new to the concept of identity independence and has yet to learn about empathy for others.
This feeling of ownership contributes to your child’s sense of person. To them, to have their possessions taken away and be used by others poses a threat to their sense of self. This is what makes sharing especially difficult for them i.e. having to give away a part of themselves even if it’s temporary.
After understanding this, how then do we encourage our children to share?
1. Model ‘sharing’
Most instances with your child are teachable moments. Use these times to model sharing. Food is a great medium to show how sharing is done. For example, eating pizza could be a way for you to demonstrate sharing when you say “This pizza looks delicious. Let’s share it!”
- Discuss sharing with your child
Take the time to talk about sharing with your child. You can use storybooks about sharing to help you kick-start the topic. Share with your child the instances you shared something with someone else and the thoughts and feelings that you had when you did so. Acknowledge that sharing can be difficult sometimes, and how you overcame this. This makes your child more receptive to the concept of sharing since mommy and daddy do it too.
- Do not force your child to share
Forcing your child to share his/her things makes the sharing experience horrid for your child and would most likely not encourage him/her to share. When playing with others, remind your child beforehand about sharing. This is where previous discussions and modelling come in handy. At the same time, be ready to praise and compliment any acts of sharing either by your child or others. For example,
If your child was sharing: “Well done, Timmy! I saw how you shared your toy train with Pete. That was nice of you to do so.”
If another child was sharing: “Oh I liked how Mary was sharing her doll with you. It was very kind of her.”
Sensory Play is another great way for kids to adopt sharing as a sensory tub usually has space for more than 1 child to play at the same time.