Sharing is an important social skill that all children need to learn, but it takes time to develop. Well-meaning parents want their children to get along with others, but may sometimes have unrealistic expectations when it comes to sharing.
Toddlers are just starting to see themselves as individuals, and they are learning that they have the right to possess things. They also believe they are the centre of the world, and assume that everything belongs to them. It seems that whatever a toddler comes in contact with is labeled as "mine", even if it is something that she had no interest in before seeing another child playing with it.
Toddlers engage in "parallel play", meaning they may play beside each other without really interacting. One child can become interested in what the other is doing, and may suddenly decide he wants that child’s toy as well as his own. During this stage, parents may need to step in when arguments arise over toys.
It is not until around age three that children begin to develop the ability to play co-operatively. They start to understand the concept of taking turns and sharing, but are often impatient and reluctant to share with other children.
The best way to teach your child to share is to model sharing and turn taking in your daily life, making comments like, "I’ll roll the ball to you, then you can roll it back to me. Now it’s your turn again!" or "I will cut the banana in half so we can each have some for our snack."
Acknowledge your child’s attempts at sharing. "I like the way you shared your blocks with Jack." "Thank you for giving Emma a turn to play with the doll carriage."
Talk about sharing before getting together with other children, but understand that reminders will likely be necessary. If another child is coming to your house to play, decide beforehand which toys will be available. Toys that are special to your child might be put away to avoid problems with sharing. Toys that can be divided and shared, such as blocks, cars, or tea sets are good choices for playing with a friend.
Learning to share is an ongoing process. When you model sharing, taking turns and asking for permission to use someone else’s property, your child sees what is socially appropriate.
By providing opportunities for her to practise sharing and by praising her efforts, your child will gradually learn that sharing not only makes others feel good, but herself as well.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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