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How behavioural science can help you teach your child to share

Updated on March 25, 2016
Teach your kid to share in 3 easy steps
Teach your kid to share in 3 easy steps | Source

It's mine. It's mine. It's mine.

We’ve all been there. We try and encourage our kids to give and share, and then one day our little toddler turns around and, with a furrow in their forehead and a little stamp of the foot, they say, “No, it’s mine.”

The first time my little one did it, I was shocked. I’d always taught her to be giving. I remember sitting her down and saying, “Hey sweetie, you know, you should really share your things with others.”

“No,” she insisted.

“Why?” I asked her.

“It’s mine,” she replied as she clung onto her doll.

Over the next couple of weeks I continued to encourage her to share her toys, sweets and food with her friends. But she stubbornly resisted.

There's lots of advice out there. But what's right for you?

I decided to conduct some research on the subject. I scoured the Internet and found some useful advise from BabyCenter and WebMD. But the information was a bit overwhelming. I wanted something simpler. So I also talked to mother friends. Quite a few of them were fairly seasoned and had two or three kids each. Some of the advice I liked. Some I dismissed because it was a bit draconian.

Then I met up with one mother called Sheila for a coffee. She'd studied behavioural science at University and started telling me about 'REPETITION PRIMING'. The theory is this: if you expose your child to the same behaviour over and over again then eventually they will start to imitate that behaviour. Think Pavlov's dogs.

So I took the best advise I could find, simplified it into 3 steps and included elements of repetition priming in each.


Sweet music: when two sisters learn to share.
Sweet music: when two sisters learn to share.

How do you teach your kids to share? Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

  1. Every time you give your child something, like breakfast, for example, say, “I’m sharing this yummy food with you.” This phrasing, repeated throughout the day and over a period of a few weeks, reinforces in your child’s head that you give things to her willingly and without conditions. It may not be obvious at first, but the message does sink in. This is classic repetition priming.
  2. When one of your kid’s friends shares a toy, point it out. “Tommy, thank you for sharing your toy with Lucy. You’re a really good friend.” This language reinforces in your child’s head that good friends share. And that if she wants to be a good friend, she’ll share too. Once again, a form of repetition priming.
  3. When your kid starts sharing again, recognize the act. “Thank you for sharing Lucy. You’re very kind.” Making the connection between sharing and kindness is another form of repetition priming.

Eureka. Success.

I put my plan in action. After a week, the method started to work, although my child had some occasional lapses into her ‘not sharing’ mode. But I persisted with the techniques above and after a month, my child became a generous giver and sharer. Repetition Priming is effective as long as you show patience, remain diligent and be loving.


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