Teaching Your Kids to Share

By Erin Kurt, B.Ed., Parenting Expert

Does your child hoard toys and possessions or have trouble taking turns? Many times we think telling a child to “play nice,” is enough to get him or her to share. But sharing isn’t just about being nice, it’s about respecting the feelings of others. The best way to get your child to consider the needs and feelings of others is to actually SHOW them how to share.

Young children have the most difficulty with sharing because they’re in that “me-me-me” phase. Its hard thinking about others when your own needs are so pressing! But this should not make parents step back and say, “It’s a phase, they’ll grow out of it.” This is the time our kids need our guidance.

Here are some steps you can take to help your child learn about sharing and turn-taking:

Show and Tell: Make sharing a common topic of conversation in your home. When you are playing with your child, make his or her toys imitate the act of sharing. Or say things like, “Can I have a turn? Thank you! Now it’s your turn.”

Try using phrases like,” You sat in the front seat last week – now it’s your sister’s turn.” Or “Remember, everyone gets a turn at the game.” You can use these phrases when playing games like Candyland or Chutes and Ladders which are perfect for teaching turn-taking.

Turn the Tables: Don’t underestimate the value of sharing – meaning the impact sharing has on other people – a very good way to teach empathy. Say things like, “Did you see Steven’s smile when you shared your toys? You made him happy!” or “Kyla enjoyed coming over to our house because you shared your toys so nicely. Well done!”

Teach by Example: Let your child see you sharing so that he or she can model your actions. Offer your husband the bigger piece of pizza and express a bit more than usual how you love to share with him.

Set Clear Expectations: Once your child knows your rules about sharing expect him or her to follow them. Your rule can be that your child is able to put away any toys he or she does not want to share before friends come over. Anything left out MUST be shared.

Follow Through: You have modeled sharing and your child has practiced. You have even put away special toys that he/she didn’t want to share, so now, if your child “forgets” to share, it’s time to take action.

Techniques: The easiest way I have found to ensure that turn taking takes place is to use a timer. It can be the timer on the oven or a simple egg timer. Let the children agree on a set amount of time (usually only a couple of minutes) for using an item and then set the timer for that amount. When the time is up, the item is passed to the other child for his/her turn. It’s amazing how this works! Kids are much more likely to listen to a timer than the voice of their mother.

In instances where your child might grab a toy away from his sister, brother or friend, redo the scene so that he learns to think of the one deprived of the turn. For example, say, “Tell your sister you’d like a turn without grabbing the toy,” or “Try that again so your friend has a turn with the bubble machine.”

If your child refuses to share an item then he/she can be given a “time-out.” Or if you have an older child, make a rule that if they don’t share they lose the privilege of playing with the friend that day: “If you don’t share, you don’t play.”

Learning to share is an essential developmental stage for young children. It is one of the first and most important skills that directly impact our daily interactions, whether we’re driving, standing in line, having a conversation, or playing a game. Sharing also lays the groundwork for generosity, civility, respect, friendship, empathy, and solving conflicts – aspects that help determine the quality of life for ourselves and others.

Erin Kurt, B.Ed, spent 16 years as a teacher and nanny around the world. Now, she applies her expertise as a parenting expert and author of Juggling Family Life: A Step-By-Step Guide to Stress-Free Parenting. You can learn more about Erin and her simple, loving parenting method, and subscribe to her weekly parenting tips e-zine at www.erinparenting.com. You’ll receive a free copy of her Special Report entitled, The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Parents when you sign up!