How to Encourage Children to Share
At (almost) Any Age of Development
I have just about seen it all when it comes to this subject. I was THE neighborhood babysitter as a teenager; a full-time nanny by the time I was 18; had three children of my own by the time I was 23 years old; and now, I'm a grandmother. Let me tell you, the "not-sharing-thing" is not pretty. Still, Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, reminds us that most children don't understand the concept of "mine" and "yours" until they're 3 years old.
Somewhere, someone came up with a list of all the things he or she ever needed to know in life was learned in Kindergarten. That’s about right. But don’t wait until kindergarten to teach your children this important lesson. Start early!
Here are my top ten ideas on how to encourage children to share at different stages of development.
Top 10 Ways to Encourage Children to Share
1. Be the example. Share with your child – your time; a bite of something you are eating; a sip or two from your glass/mug; slide over on the couch, chair, love seat (“Would you like me to share this with you?”). It will give them the opportunity to see that it gives someone else a good feeling inside. Tell them, “I like sharing this with you because I love to see you happy.” (You can even do this with babies). You’ll get an ear-to-ear grin in return. Once you set that foundation, you are then a position to ask that of them.
2. Ask them to share with you. Play with them and their toys, “Let’s share some time playing with your Legos, can you help me build ___; It’s chilly, get your blanket and share it with me so we can be warm together; Oh, that snack looks great, share a bite with me; Share your video controller with me and show me how to play.”
4. Buy gifts that are meant for sharing: board games, Frisbees, balls, building kits, cards etc.; and use that as “family time.” These things belong to the family. A child will learn, "Not everything is JUST for me." Every year, I bought one family gift; the label said “To the Clark children. Love Santa.” By the time they got “Rockband” in their teens, they could not wait to play it together.
5. It's important to share with guests. Tell them how important it is to share with guests before the guests arrive! “Mom is going to share her coffee and brownies with Travis’ mommy and, since you are so good at sharing, you are going to share your toys with Travis.” You’re teaching them how to treat visitors with kindness.
6. Give to charity. Clean up that room overloaded with toys and give what is not being used to charity. Sit down with your child and say, “You’ve been so lucky to have all these toys all this time. So many children don’t have toys. Let’s go through these toys and what you don’t play with anymore we’ll clean them up together and put it in the bag to take it to (your favorite children’s charity). You’ll make those kids so happy. ” Bring your child with you when you take the bag to the charity. Maybe even get the child to do the talking about why he or she is “sharing” them. They will learn there are others who are less fortunate, will appreciate what they do have, and that they can make a difference in the world.
7. Make time to share. Have your children ask each other, “What do I have that you would like me to share.” Then, have them swap items for a period of time (15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.). Before you know it, as they grow, you’ll hear them asking on their own. Here's a piece of a conversation I heard in my house with big teenagers:
Michael: "Lee, can you share your Linkin Park CD with me today? I'll let you borrow my Lupe Fiasco CD since I know you've been wanting to listen to it."
8. Share a sweet. Get a king size candy bar for your children to share instead of buying each child one. Designate one of them to break into pieces to share with each other. One day, when my daughter was 4 years old exclaimed, “Oh Momma, we need 4 pieces so you can have some too!”
9. Give praise. Give the child credit; it's hard for children to share sometimes, so when they do it, give the child a "high five" and some encouraging words about the pride you have in him or her.
10. Go on a camping trip. It will provide you will 100 ways to demonstrate sharing - tents, stove, food, the cooler, or the lantern. Don't camp in a way where everyone has their own "everything." Don’t bring a ton of toys they won’t play with. Keep them involved with each other.
Your children will grow up knowing the importance of sharing and will do so willingly as children and adults. Even better, they’ll pass it along to their children.
By Liza Lugo, J.D.
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