Problem: My kids are 2 and 3 and the last thing they care about is sharing with each other or with their friends. My husband and I emphasize the importance of sharing and repeatedly say to them: “It’s nice to share. Everybody shares.” However, getting them to share continues to be a struggle. Should we be handling this differently?
Insight: This is absolutely one of the most common complaints parents of young children have – sharing. It may help to understand that children, between the ages of 2 and 3, don’t share well for developmental reasons – not because of bad or weak parenting. Young children are much too egocentric to care about how others feel and they are too young to understand the benefits of sharing.
Strategies: Since there are no magical or quick fixes to this problem, consider these important points before becoming too frustrated and discouraged.
Do consider that to young children sharing feels, as if, their toys no longer belong to them. Using logic to explain that this is not the case, won’t work because young children don’t understand adult reasoning.
Don’t (even though tempting) say, “How would you feel if your friends didn’t share with you?” The question doesn’t make sense to young children and it won’t change their behavior. Young children can’t put themselves in the position of someone else – yet.
Do understand that a lack of concern for another’s feelings, wants and needs may be difficult for you to accept because your adult way of thinking is so different from your child’s.
Don’t use negative approaches to teach sharing. If you grab from your children, they will learn to grab from each other. If you use a harsh tone, they will do the same with others.
Do know that sharing is easier if children play outside, if they play at a friend’s house rather than at their own house, or if they’re involved in something together, such as coloring, using play dough or painting.
Don’t neglect to set clear and simple limits. “You may not take the toy from your sister.” “No hitting.” “He’s using that now. You may use it when he’s finished.” Then add a distraction, “Let’s read this book.”
Do model the behavior you want your children to adopt. If you’re giving, show kindness and share courteously, your children will eventually copy you. Children learn more from parents’ examples than from their admonitions.
Don’t blame yourself or have negative feelings about your children, considering them to be bad or selfish when they resist sharing. And, don’t feel you have to force sharing, especially around others. That approach usually causes a frustrating (and embarrassing) outburst.
Do try preparing (although this may not work) your children when a friend is coming to visit, “Abby is going to want to play with your blocks, your puzzles, and the sliding board when she comes to visit.” Sharing struggles may be diminished by supervising closely.
Don’t always put time limits on taking turns. Young children need many experiences finishing what they start. Being asked to stop playing with something when they’re involved is very frustrating, similar to an adult being asked to stop while in the middle of an activity their involved in; i.e., baking a cake.
Do show a constant willingness to be involved with your children. The more you’re engaged with them, playing with them and nurturing their interests, the less conflicts they’ll have over sharing. This is also the case when your adult friends visit with their children.
Don’t fret. By the time your children are 4 and 5, you’ll notice a general change is their attitude toward sharing. You’ll here them say, “Here, you use this.” “Let’s both play with these.” And by ages 5 and 6, they will begin to place more value on friendship, showing even more of a willingness and interest in sharing.
Bottom Line: All parents want their children to grow into kind, sharing, well-mannered people. However, learning to give of oneself takes time – actually years. How you respond to sharing struggles will ultimately impact how your children will learn to treat others. Handling these moments with sensitivity and reasonable expectations will help them learn to behave in thoughtful and considerate ways. So, don’t yell, don’t demean them, and please don’t expect your children to act in ways that are beyond their developmental years.