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How Do You Encourage Children to Share

Please help my child just wont share. When I invite friends over, she cries and won’t share her toys. We believe in kindness and generosity as a family and we don’t like this behaviour. Our daughter is 2.5 years and she needs to learn early I think before she goes to school. Our nanny and I say “sharing is caring” like they do I the nursery but she just cries and won’t listen.

Please advise us


Dear Fatima,

This is a very common challenge for families.

“Sharing is caring right” …. I get why we say it. We mean well. Let’s look at this differently though a moment.

As parents and educators, we have all been in the uncomfortable situation where a child refuses to share a toy with another child at the playground or during a playdate.

We try to coax the child into giving up the item they were enjoying because another child is interested in it. That seems right I suppose? We want the child to learn social skills and “play nicely” which many of us think means sharing toys.

Maybe our motive is to encourage kindness which is a great thing except when you are three years old and you are underdeveloped emotionally and you just got the best thing ever; the red truck everyone wants. Maybe we feel embarrassed and worried about what the other mums will think…

The concepts of sharing, lending, and borrowing are complex for young kids to understand. Toddlers have not yet developed empathy and cannot see things from another child's perspective. Forcing your child to share does not teach the social skills that we want toddlers to learn; instead, it may send many messages we don't want to send, and may actually increase how often our toddlers throw a tantrum.

1. It might say: cry loudly and a nice adult will come along and you can get what you want for the child requesting the red truck

2. Adults are the ones in charge of what happens, I’m powerless

3. Children should get interrupted in play if someone else wants something, next time I will do the same.

Instead, we could equip these toddlers with phrases they can use and we respect the learning process that children go through and we allow it to play out uninterrupted until they have completed the cycle.

The eventual goal is for the child to notice when another child would like a turn with something they are playing with, and to ensure the child gets a turn. That’s when the magic happens!

We need to give our toddlers phrases they can use, phrases that empower them and let us know what they need. Language is key here. However, what do we do when our toddler is just developing language? What do we do when our child is not verbal?

We facilitate the process, we are present.

I see many social situations where very young children are left to play while adults are chatting. Fights happen, and squabbles occur as the children don’t yet have the skills. I’m all for Mums having a natter whilst children play, but these little folk needs our help and unsupervised children do often result in hitting and biting when children don’t have communication skills. It’s not because they are naughty (don’t get me on that one), it’s because they are learning. I used to try very hard to explain this to parents as a nursery Principal (a story for another day)

What can we do to develop these vital skills of advocation and social play?

1. We can model patience and sharing visibly for our child in daily life

1. We can be present during their play to facilitate language and give support

2. We can practice sharing an item in a circle and passing it between toddlers

3. We can create a sharing shelf or basket where highly valued items are returned for another child to use. Sometimes children don’t like to hand over the toy, but they are willing to place it somewhere.

4. We can encourage desired behaviour to repeat by reinforcing it with specific praise

By teaching little children to use their words, advocate for themselves, and work things out with other children, we are teaching them vital life skills.

In conclusion and with total conviction I can state that: Children do not need to be told when their time is up with a toy and do not need to immediately share their toys with others.

Longer term we do need to consider that If adults are always jumping in or setting limits, children lose the ability to learn from the experience. Children need to learn how to speak up for themselves in a kind and respectful way.

I feel very passionately that children should be able to play freely, feel fulfilled by their experience, and then be able to give the toy over when they are finished. The aim of this is to encourage self-regulation and self-discipline and to make a connection with the feeling of being satisfied.

I feel this approach makes children more likely to want to share and give to others. I have watched this play out in the nursery classroom hundreds of times. Children really enjoy making others happy and through practice, they learn to give and receive.

Give it a go Fatima, Id love to hear how it goes.

Stay in touch

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