How to teach your kids to share—without the struggle

Sharing requires an understanding of ours and another's feelings and desires. Sharing is about being creative with another as you use something together, it is about being compassionate and giving, it is about being respectful.

How to teach your kids to share—without the struggle

I found myself lingering in our local library recently, enjoying the 'learn, play, read' area they've created for infants to preschoolers. I watched how parents quietly sat on the floor and stayed present to their exploring little ones. I loved the access to so many fabulous books.

And I heard the inevitable "Share!" and "No, no, be nice, you have to share." "You can't have that, you have to share it."

This sharing deal? It really is more about us than our children.

Think about it. Developmentally it is between 3 and 5 that children really grasp what sharing is all about, yet we demand our toddlers and young preschoolers to somehow just know how to do it. Whew, wouldn't it be nice if they did? No fighting, arguing, grabbing… all is fine and easy and we can feel like good parents.

However, sharing requires an understanding of ours and another's feelings and desires. Sharing is about being creative with another as you use something together, it is about being compassionate and giving, it is about being respectful.

How do our kids grow into the sharing mode?

By our understanding of their feelings and desires, our compassion, giving and being respectful of them. This includes beginning with complete ownership over something.

Take a moment and think about your teen years. Say you had worked many hours to save up for the beautiful new sweater or dress that you finally bought and your sister demands wearing it prior to you (since you were saving it for that special date sometime in the future) and your parent insisted you "be kind and share," how might you feel?

You might feel resentful or share, but begrudgingly. It could make you mad. And think about how it might influence your relationship with your sister, probably in less than wonderful ways. This is what is what happens when we, out of our own desire to have our children 'be nice' and have what seems to be conflict go away, make our little ones share.

What to do, instead? Respect ownership. If a young toddler knows for sure their time with an item is fully respected, if that is the norm for them that they can be fully submerged in their exploration of whatever toy, then when they feel done it is a simple extension to let the next toddler have it. All we have to do is respect their feelings, time and choice.

Some scenarios to look at

"You want a turn with the stuffed kitty." Pause and wait. "Timmy, Grace wants a turn with the kitty." Wait and watch. "Oh, Grace. It looks like Timmy isn't done with the kitty. Would you like to play with the truck or read a book while you wait for a turn?"

"It makes you mad that you can't have the kitty right now. It's hard to wait, isn't it? Let's go over here together and I can help you wait for your turn."

"When you grab the book, it makes Sally mad. She wasn't done with it." Pause. "Sally, do you want to finish looking at the book or can Erik have it?" Wait quietly. "Looks like Sally wants to finish reading the book. Erik, can you hand it back or would you like me to help you?" Pause once again. "Here, I will help you give it back. I know, you really want a turn. Maybe we can read it together? Or maybe you and I can read this book until Sally is done."

"Hmmm. I see two children who both want the puzzle." Pause. "Wow, Mikey really wants to use it and Sarah is already working with the pieces." Wait. "Is there another puzzle in this room that we could find?" "Is there something else Mikey might want to play with? Sarah, could you find something for Mikey while he waits for you to be all done?" Or…"Here's a piece for you to work with, Mikey. Sarah, are you going to put your piece in? Mikey, where does yours fit? Look how you can both work on the puzzle!"

And when sharing naturally occurs? When two little ones are both exploring one thing, or handing something over, or giving a piece of theirs to another? Then you get to let them know "You are sharing! Marie likes it when you share a piece of your snack." What we focus on grows 🙂.

Now what is learned–whether a conflict or natural sharing?

Respect. Understanding of feelings. Greater awareness of their own feelings and another's. What to do when there is conflict.

All necessary for future sharing. The cool thing? As you PAUSE and observe before even jumping in, you may notice these little ones handle it just fine between them. Maybe when a toy is grabbed from another, the other doesn't mind. Neither should we. They are learning. Maybe when a toy is grabbed it gets grabbed back. Wait. See how it plays out.

Intervention really is only necessary when big feelings take over or hitting/biting begins. Then it's time to step in, describe what you see, affirm feelings, and PAUSE, always PAUSE throughout, giving your child the opportunity to process and respond. You may be surprised with what they decide to do.

Sharing begins with respect for feelings, ownership, unhurried time.

When a young child feels respected—when their time with something is honored—they will naturally share with another person. What does this require from us? PAUSING, always. Calming our anxiety over what seems like conflict, fighting, disagreements, unfairness. Calming ourselves down as we find ourselves with other parents who do it differently.

I know what worked for me was to stay focused on the children involved rather than talk with the other parent. Or I would say, "Let's see how our kids work it out, first." Or we'd just chalk up a disintegrating situation to just that. A disintegrating situation. An opportunity to affirm feelings and get the heck out of there.

Relax today. Let your toddler and young preschooler finish what they are doing. Show them the respect you want to see in them as they grow. Trust the process as sharing evolves. Naturally, and often later. Honor the steps one at a time that will create the foundation for not only sharing, but positive and healthy relationships. There is no hurry.

Originally posted on Just Ask Alice.

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