Teaching a Child to Share Takes Patience, Practice

By Lesley Iwinski

You are at the park with your 3-year-old, enjoying a nice afternoon with the other moms while the children play. Suddenly, you see your son’s friend, Jody, grab at your son’s toy. Sam refuses to share. You cringe and wonder if you should intercede.

Most parents want to teach their children to share, take turns and look out for others as well as themselves.

What if the traditional way of teaching young children to share is backwards?

In the situation above, a parent who values sharing might let Jody have the toy and tell Sam he has to share.

Mom believes that she is teaching Sam to share, but Sam is probably thinking, “I was playing with that! I wasn’t finished! That was mean. I was having such a good time and now I’m sad and mad.”

What Sam has actually learned is that taking things from people before they are finished is okay.

He is more likely to imitate taking the toy away than he is to learn to share.

Let’s try something different. This time, the parent speaks to her friend’s son first.

“You would like a turn with the red car, wouldn’t you?” When Jody nods, the parent says to Sam, “When you are finished with the car, Jody would like to have a turn.”

Sam now has the choice to share the car or to finish his turn and share when he is ready (i.e., not under duress, which isn’t really sharing).

If he decides to share now, great! If he isn’t ready, say, “I see you are playing with the car right now. Jody would like to play with the car, too. When you are done playing, will you please give the car to Jody?”

Sam has learned that his turn will be respected. Meanwhile, Jody is learning to wait his turn.

Sure, Jody might protest, especially if he is used to grown-ups solving problems for him.

At this young age, empathy and distraction help to bridge the gap. “It’s hard to wait when you really want something, isn’t it? I know you would like the car right now. Let’s check out the sandbox while we wait.”

This takes practice and repetition. Although small children don’t understand the idea of sharing (they think their toys are an extension of themselves), children who are 2-3 years old are ready to learn to share.

Sam and Jody will learn over time. Each success is another foundational block to build on. That’s news worth sharing.