How to Help Your Child Learn to Share When She's Just Not Feeling It

kids playing with toysSo, you've been trying to get your little kid to share and she's just not about that? That's normal. Frustrating, but normal.


Thing is, most parents probably want their child to share. After all, we've seen our own kids' faces when someone at a playgroup doesn't. Or if yours is the child who screams every time her playdate touches her doll, you may be mortified.

And while some psychologists say sharing is a developmental milestone that toddlers are simply not ready for and that forcing them to do it could be traumatic, I think most of us agree that eventually they're going to have to learn to share.

"I've seen a number of these 'I don't make my child share' articles lately, and I disagree completely," says Dr. Teresa Hamm, a school and clinical psychologist at St. Luke's School in New York City and mother of two. "I, for one, would rather not be college roommates, [be] coworkers, or work on a committee with someone who heard the refrain 'It's okay, dear, you don't have to share!' throughout their childhood."

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"Sharing is a prosocial behavior that helps school-aged children see themselves as part of a community, rather than as islands," Hamm says. "Moreover, children who are playing with blocks, for example, in a group have increased opportunities to use expressive and receptive language, gain experience trying out different roles, and have more chances to problem-solve."

In other words, sharing actually is important -- not just for your kid's social life, but for learning, too. You're both just going to have to ease into it. Here's what to do if your child isn't willing to jump on the sharing bandwagon just yet.

1. Give your child opportunities not to share.

I know what you're thinking: "I thought we're all about sharing?" But your kid isn't going to want to share if he feels like he's getting pressure about it constantly.

More from CafeMom: 10 Old-School Activities You Need to Share With Your Kid

Hamm explains that her own children have selected toys they aren't expected to share. "There's an understanding that these toys are very special to each child," she says. "Sharing is important, but not all things must be shared at all times."

2. Recognize that it's not easy.

"Say something like, 'Sharing this puzzle is hard, isn't it? You look like you're having a good time putting the pieces together,'" says Hamm. Often kids just want their feelings heard; show that you hear them.

3. Talk up sharing.

Speak to your kid about times in your life when someone shared with you -- when Daddy gave you the last piece of pie or your other child let you snuggle with her favorite blanket when you were sick. "Make sharing a desirable behavior by sharing experiences with your children of times when people shared with you," says Hamm. "Be sure to include the outcome."

4. And make sure they see you share, too.

"It should go without saying, but it's important for parents to model the behaviors they are expecting from their children," says Hamm. Your kid looks up to you. Act the way you want him or her to.

5. Note the outside influences that could make sharing hard.

"If there's a sudden onset of difficulty sharing, there may be external factors at play -- including a new sibling, a difficult transition at school, or an impending move -- that should be treated with sensitivity," says Hamm. Maybe your child is being particularly territorial with her favorite stuffed bunny because she makes her feel safer in the new house. Then it's okay to cut her some slack in the sharing department, at least until she's more used to the new digs.

6. Make sharing a little easier on everyone.

"I try to create opportunities for my children to be successful in sharing," Hamm says. "If we're playing with a toy garage, I make sure that there's a car for each child. They may have to share the track, the elevator, and the parking spots, but if I can ensure they each have their own car to maneuver, I have increased the odds that they can be successful with sharing." Got two kids? Buy two of almost everything. Three? Three of everything. And so on.

7. Give positive feedback when they're successful.

Encourage your child to share items like an old toy, or a book they rarely read. "Any time your child is able to share, directly praise the behavior," says Hamm. "'I love how you let your sister use your scooter!'" Who doesn't love a compliment? Positive feedback encourages a repeat performance.

8. Encourage them to share intangible things.

If sharing toys and other belongings is still a huge struggle, find other ways your child can share. "Sharing things like time -- reading to a younger sibling -- or talents -- baking cookies for a neighbor -- is another good place to start for children who have some difficulty sharing tangible items," points out Hamm. "Just be certain that you're identifying these behaviors as types of sharing, so that your child makes the connection." If they realize they're good at that type of sharing, perhaps the other kind isn't too far off. 


How do you encourage your child to share?



Image via Robert Mandel / iStock

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