Teaching Your Preschooler to Share
Question: My child has a difficult time sharing. She's very possessive about her toys and belongings. But that's just the beginning! She doesn't even like to share the swings at the park, her seat on the bus, or "her" patch of sand on the beach! How can I get her to share?
Think about it: When you're a little kid, nothing really belongs to you. Sure, you may get a baton for your birthday, but when you hit your brother with it, your father takes it away. It may be your favorite sweater, but when you grow out of it, your mother gives it to your little cousin. It may be your special swing at the park, but when you arrive and a big kid is abusing it, your babysitter tells you to wait your turn. You may start to believe that you have to keep all your important things hidden away to keep them safe from loss.
Practice: Set up non-threatening situations that lend themselves to sharing so that your child has practice sharing her belongings for a short period of time. A few examples are: games that require two people, such as badminton or checkers, puzzles where everyone is making the same thing, crafts where children are sharing supplies, coloring with one set of crayons or markers, or building a Lego city.
Explain your expectations: Let your child know exactly what to expect prior to a sharing situation. For example, before a friend's visit let her know how long the friend will be there, and reassure her that all her things will still be hers after the friend leaves. Allow your child to put away a few favorite things that do not have to be shared, but let her know that the guest will be playing with the other toys during the visit.
YOU share too! Share things with your child and point out what you are doing. For example, "Andrea, would you like a turn on my calculator? I'd be happy to share it with you."
Will you share with me? Encourage your child to share toys with you. It's often easier for a child to share with a parent, since the child knows you'll be careful and that you'll give the toy back when you're done. It makes for good sharing practice.
Give choices: Give your child choices instead of demanding that she share a specific toy. For example, "Sarah would like to play with some stuffed animals. Which ones would you like to let her play with?"
Save the lecture for later: It's easier to teach your child about sharing at times when she's not in a sharing situation. In the middle of a tug-of-war over her stuffed rabbit she won't be very receptive to your thoughts on the value of sharing. There are lots of good children's books about sharing that can be used to teach, as well as lots of opportunities to demonstrate sharing at home.
Create rules: Have very specific rules about sharing. You should have "joint ownership" rules, for things such as board games, sports equipment and other things that are owned by "all the kids" or the family. Have separate rules about things that are privately owned, such as toys that were received as gifts, or those things that a child has purchased herself. Allow children to have a few important things that they don't ever have to share, so that they will be more willing to share other less valued possessions.