If you are the parent to a young child, you have probably hoped and wished that when you take your child out into group settings with other children that they will be polite and on their best behavior. You may have been filled with joy when you see your child playing nicely with a friend that they just made in the playground. Or maybe you’ve been able to relax when you see that the play date you made with another mom is going smoothly and you can finally let out that breath you’ve been holding and just focus on finally enjoying some much needed adult conversation.
But then it happens.
You hear your child screaming at another child not to touch their things or you see them having a meltdown because another kid wants to use the swing they were on first. Other parents are starting at you, waiting to see how you’re going to handle what they see as your selfish child. Are we going to force them to let the other child take a turn? Are we going to explain to them why it’s nice to share? No matter what we do, our children are going to decide how they want to respond. But there are things we can start doing at home to prepare our children on how to react in these situations when they are expected or required to share when playing with other children.
Why do we want our children to share in the first place?
Sharing is one of those life skills that we all learn at one point or another. It seems to be vital when it comes to establishing friendships, playing with other children, and participating in activities as they advance through school. Once our children start interacting on a regular basis with other children it is absolutely necessary that they understand the importance of sharing.
When our children learn to share they are learning important life lessons about what it means to be fair. They are also learning the benefits and rewards of being polite, and they will also learn why not sharing can be harmful to themselves or those that they care about. Sharing also teaches children how to work things out on their own, take turns with other children, and how to deal with the disappointment or let down of not being able to have what they want all the time.
Helping your child understand sharing
Your first time trying to help your child understand sharing will probably be in a moment when they have been confronted by another child that wants to play with their toy or have a turn on something they are playing with at the playground. If your child has another sibling you may be able to address this situation for the first time within your own home when usually a younger sibling goes to pick up a toy that they have always believed to be theirs and no one else’s.
But believe it or not your child has been learning to share prior to these experiences just by watching you, the parent, or other role models. They pay attention to how you handle different situations and use you as their example on how they should interact with others.
The above mentioned experiences of having to share with another child are opportunities that give your child the space to practice the methods of sharing. Here are some things you can do to better prepare your children for those experiences:
- Point out sharing in other situations. If your child watches TV and the characters on the screen take turns doing something simply point out the act of sharing and also point out how happy it made the person that was on the receiving end of the sharing.
- Play with your child and show them gratitude when they share their toys or take turns with you.
- Play a game with your child that requires you to take turns back and forth. Make sure to highlight when you are taking turns doing things. For example, simply throwing a ball back in forth you can say “It’s your turn to throw the ball. Okay, now it’s my turn to throw the ball.” This can highlight how you can still have fun while sharing with others.
- When your child is sharing or taking turns, praise them for their efforts. You can thank them for sharing. You can also point how nice it is that they are sharing with others.
- Take opportunities to share things with your child and point those moments out. Maybe your child wants some of your food or drink. This is a perfect opportunity to offer them some and point out how you are sharing the food with them.
- Depending on how old your child is you can also talk to them and prepare them. You can have a conversation with them before their play date or before starting preschool and explain to them that they are going to be around more children that are going to want to play with things that they have.
Other Methods to Ease the Sharing Experience
There are other methods that can be used to help make the sharing experience go a bit more smoothly for your child. You can use these tricks to both help your child understand the process of sharing and also help them have a bit of patience when it is time to let another child play with a toy.
- Use a timer. Sometimes it may be hard to intervene and tell another child when it is time to hand something over and this can be especially hard when thechildren are very young. Try setting a timer for a short period of time, about three minutes, and give the toy to one child. Explain to the children that when the timer goes off it will be time for them to switch and the second child gets a turn with a toy. For the first few rounds of this you will more than likely still need to give your child a little push to give up the toy at the end of the timer. As they go through this enough times the children will hopefully give up the toy willingly at the end of their turn and they may also start to internalize a little timer of their own to where they will give up a toy after playing with it for so long without needing to hear a timer going off.
- Take away toys that aren’t being shared well. You may find that even with the timer and some encouragement to share, your child will still have a hard time sharing a particular toy. Children may fight over the toy constantly and just refuse to give each other a toy. For this situation it may be easier to simply take the toy away and explain that when toys cannot be shared no one can play with them. You will be met with groans and protests but once the children have processed their disappointment they will see that it is better to share the toys rather than not be able to play with them at all.
- Allow children to work things through on their own. Sometimes when we see children beginning to fight over anything our initial response is to run over and immediately play mediator in the situation. Sometimes, given enough time, children will sort things out on their own. As our children grow older it’s better to give them a little bit of guided help rather than always intervening and directing the situation. Encourage your child to communicate with their friends by saying things like “When I’m finished you can have a turn,” or “When you’re done playing can I play with that toy?” This will allow them to effectively navigate through these tricky situations on their own. This self-directed learning will also better prepare them to deal with situations in which we are not also present to help them figure out the best solution.
- Be prepared and plan for the inevitable. It’s important to remember that we are only dealing with children. So although we may prepare to share as much as possible, it is also important to realize that there are going to be times where they are simply not going to want to share. If your child is going to have a play date and you know there are certain toys they are not going to want to share no matter how much you encourage them you can take a few steps ahead of time to prepare. Ask the other parent if their child can bring a few toys of their own. This way as they are playing together your child will come to the realization that in order to play with their playmates toys they will also have to share their toys in return. You can also ask your child to put away certain toys or refrain from playing with toys they won’t want to share during the play date. Naturally all children have their favorite items, and rather than forcing them to share them you can instead ask them to take a break from those toys and instead play with things that they wouldn’t mind another child playing with. This is also something to encourage when they are going to preschool or to a playground. Encourage them to leave behind those toys they never want to give up because it would be easier to have them take a small break from the toys instead of forcing them to share their toys, which is something we never want to do.
Don’t Force Your Child to Share
It’s important that we are not forcing children to share. It doesn’t send a proper message to our children. It teaches them the wrong lessons. Sometimes we may want to force our child to share out of the frustration of dealing with another child that wants the item they have. When we force a child to share with a child we are teaching them that complaining or crying loudly and long enough is the way to get what they want.
Another message we could be inadvertently sending our child is that we are in charge of who gets what and when. This could also cause the expectation that parents are always responsible for controlling these situations. It is better for your child to learn how to handle these situations themselves by using the tools that we provide them with.
Lastly, when forcing a child to share you may be telling them that they have to give up whatever they are doing or playing with at any given moment just because another child expects them to. This isn’t fair to your child. Although we do want them to share we also want them to understand that it is okay for them to have a turn at enjoying the toys or activities they want to play with as well.
Your child’s experience with sharing is going to be a period of learning and adapting for both you and them. You can provide your child with the necessary tools, give them plenty of space and time to learn this new life skill, and also have a lot of patience with them as they adjust to this new experience. Remember to continuously show your child praise when they have succeeded at sharing, or even just gave a really good effort and don’t forget to show understanding in those moments where they simply don’t want to share as you cannot completely avoid it. You will have plenty of setbacks and obstacles to get over but as they experience the act of sharing more and more you will see that they will begin to navigate through this process much easier on their own. Remember to continue communicating with your child and show them patience and understanding and before you know it this battle of sharing will be over and you’ll have moved on to teaching their next life lesson.