Teaching Your Child to Share

When I lived with roommates, sharing was one of the hardest things to do. If you shared some milk one time, that meant that all of your food was free game forever. The same with clothing. I mean, I've voluntarily shared clothes and food but doing it voluntarily and finding out it was "borrowed" are two different things... sounds like sharing is something I may need to keep working on! #skillsforlifenotjustpreschool While sharing with roommates was a slippery slope to communal possessions, sharing is actually something that is important and something that I'm glad I'm willing to do...sometimes. #progressnotperfection As an adult, I'm aware that when I loan or share something that I'm probably not going to have the item returned. It's okay though because I know what I'm willing to 'give away' and what I'm not willing to sacrifice for the sake of prosocial behavior. I love being grown up and having choices!

Sharing is Optional

Children encounter similarly uncomfortable circumstances on the playground. Besides navigating joining in on-going play  and trying to understand your friends' behavior.... sometimes you have to share. If a peer asks for your toy, do you aways have to give it away? What if someone wants to borrow your cherished lovey? Does simply asking mean that you'll always get what you want? Eh, real life says no. Sharing is optional. A few weeks ago I called my internet provider to negotiation lower rates, didn't happen. Asking did not guarantee receiving. And that's okay. It's okay to have unmet expectations and for children to not always get what they want. Besides learning to share your stuff, children need to be learn how to handle the disappointment of someone else not sharing.

Forcing Sharing

So while I don't always force children to share every single time a peer demands a toy (I do encourage sharing and/or trading and/or waiting for a turn), it's still something that children need to learn to do so that they can develop positive relationships with their peers and learn how to play with friends. Forcing a child to share may seem to your child like a punishment and may lead to increased possessiveness (Brownell, et al., 2013). Personally, I really don't want to unintentionally encourage possessiveness and turn something going into a negative experience.

To minimize negative experiences with sharing, provide genuine and specific positive reinforcement so that sharing is a rewarding experience. #makesharingagoodexperience

Teaching Sharing

Here are the strategies to teach sharing:
  1. Self-talk
  2. Modeling
  3. Round Robin Activities
  4. Increased Emotional Awareness
  5. Positive Reinforcement
Let's explore and get to know these strategies a bit better. Here's the strategic how-to:
  1. Self-Talk and Modeling
    1. When playing with a child, use self-talk to demonstrate how you share. A potential dialogue may be as follows, “Hmm, I had a turn with this dolly. It was a lot of fun, but now it is time for me to let Jane have a turn. Sharing makes my friends happy!” or “Jonny is not sharing his puzzle with me, that makes me really sad.”
      1. *****(So I have really conflicting feelings about this strategy even though it's recommended and commonly used. Specifically "that makes me really sad." I don't want to teach a child to base their choices on my emotions. It feels like it's pushing into emotional/psychological abuse... like you need to do this even though you don't want to because of my emotions....in the wrong hands this becomes toxic and manipulation.... So how would you use this strategy without manipulation?) Seriously, I want to hear your perspective on the middle ground.
  2. Round Robin Activities
    1. Round Robin is a technique where everyone takes a turn doing the same action in order to demonstrate a skill.
    2. Play “Hot Potato” and use the phrases “My turn” and “Your turn” to demonstrate turn taking and support basic sharing concepts.
  3. Increased Emotional Awareness
    1. Children who can label and talk about emotions and are encouraged to think and explain another’s emotions, share more frequently and more quickly (Brownell, et al., 2013).
    2. Read story books such as I am Happy: A Touch and Feel Book of Feelings by Steve Light and Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis to practice labeling emotions (Brownell, et al., 2013).
    3. During a story book reading, use phrases such as “Is he happy or mad?” “How is she feeling?” and “I wonder how she is feeling” to provide your child with opportunities to identify emotions (Brownell, et al., 2013).
      1. More Suggested Books
        1. The Mine-O-Saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
        2. Will Sheila Share? by Elivia Savadier
        3. I Want It by Elizabeth Crary
        4. We Share Everything by Robert Munsch
Do you have any tips for getting children to share? How do you help children negotiate when to share? And how you find your balance between showing how a child's behaviors affect your emotions without pushing into the manipulation-zone? This post contains affiliate links because momma's gotta bring home the bacon. If I receive a negligible kick-back from your purchase, thank you!


Brownell, C.A., Svetlova, M., Anderson, R., Nichols, S.R., & Drummond, J. (2013). Socialization of early prosocial behavior: Parents' talk about emotions is associated with sharing and helping in toddlers. Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Students, 18, 91-119. Image Courtesy of Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Teaching Your Child to Share

  1. I love the idea of using round robin games to introduce the concept of sharing. At what age are kids developmentally ready to understand sharing or even that other people have feelings? My 16 month old can be very possessive (even with other kids’ toys), and I get the feeling that she just doesn’t “get it” yet.

    1. Awesome question! And it’s okay that sharing is not clicking for her yet. Right now she’s most likely learning how to draw your attention to things. So pointing at the airplane she sees or the toy that she wants. She’s also likely learning how to do turn-taking games.

      She most likely will start sharing around 24-30 months and at 3-5 years old she’s start to identify emotions, shown concern for others, and later respond to other’s emotions.

      The more I learn about language and social skills, the more I wonder how anyone figures it out! That’s awesome that you’re aware of your child’s development and looking at how to help her continue to develop her language.

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