How to Teach Children to Share

Teaching children to share is hard -- actually, it's nearly impossible and even unnecessary. Find out why sharing doesn't work and what to do instead!

I want so badly for my children to be thoughtful, giving people who think of others first. Is it too much to ask for children who are kind?!?

This is a typical scenario at our home.

"Mawwwwwwm, he won't share with meeeee!!!"

Instantly, my patience completely drains. Why don't they just figure this out? How come I have to intervene time after time? Can't they just learn to share!?!

Teaching children to share is hard! Whether it's a classroom of children or even just two children, sharing does not come naturally.

Teaching Children to Share Doesn't Work!

Teaching a class of preschoolers to share seemed nearly impossible! In fact, teaching a classroom full of preschoolers was where I found out how unrealistic sharing is.

Imagine bringing out one item for 20 preschoolers to look at during circle time. Pick any object -- it doesn't matter what! Instantly, the children become like a circle of mini lobsters, with little hands opening and closing, each wanting to see it. And by see it, I really mean touch it!

Teaching a preschool class made one thing evident: sharing doesn't work!

What Does Sharing Really Mean?

The word "share" is constantly misused. The definition of the verb "share" is to "have a portion of (something) with another or others" or to "give a portion of (something) to another or others." This is taken from Oxford Dictionaries. The key to this definition is that sharing includes a portion of something.

No wonder sharing doesn't work! How could a child offer a portion of a car to another child?

In order for something to be shared, it would have to have sections or portions. This can be accomplished with apple slices, but don't try Mr. Potato Head!

There are times that sharing goes incredibly wrong too. Such as the time when a favorite doll's arm was accidentally torn off. That was a sad day, indeed.

Is sharing a complete loss? I don't think so, but adults need realistic expectations.

There are times that sharing would start a riot. I am happy for my own children to share a cup of water or a bite of pizza with one another or myself, but no one wants us to start offering bites to everyone else at the restaurant.

Heather Shumaker, the author of It's OK Not to Share, explains sharing this way:

Sharing for adults is about trust, friendship, and generosity. All these take time to nurture. Sharing for kids centers around around possessing and controlling. A young child can learn lessons of trust and generosity best when she is allowed to hold on to an object until she is fully done using it.

Since sharing doesn't work most of the time, here's an alternative!

What to do Instead of Sharing!

Instead of sharing, encourage children to work together by taking turns.

When we tell children to take turns in place of sharing, we are giving them a great way to practice the skills they will need to cooperate with others and to solve conflict. This is a foundational life skill.

Children can even help brainstorm about this. Try this approach. It works like magic!

I see you're enjoying playing with this car. David would like a turn with this too. When you're finished with it, give the car to David so that he can play with it too. Can you remember to give it to him when you are finished?

Sound too easy? It really works and is one of my best veteran preschool teacher tips!

By making children a part of the solution, they are more willing to help and to even become more generous. The more they practice this, the easier it becomes! Make sure to notice when the child gives the item to the next child, and let them know you're proud of them for remembering to give it to their friend.

Children can become kind and generous people without sharing -- adults just need to take a step back and allow the children to be part of the solution!

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Comments
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MusicMom
MusicMom

I love your perspective on this topic. "Taking turns" is definitely a more accurate description of how to encourage toddlers/young children to consider others' feelings. It's something that needs to be practised regularly as preparation for more complex concepts of "sharing". Thank you for this great article. Sharing!