Parenting - December 2015

When Children Stuffle to Share: Here's How to Help

by Elizabeth Pantly

It can be frustrating and embarrassing when your typically sweet little child refuses to share. Fortunately, this is totally normal and there are things you can do to help. Sharing is a complicated social skill that your child will learn with the help of your guidance and plenty of practice.

First, let’s discuss why young children have such a difficult time sharing. They don’t have many possessions at their age and they usually have strong attachments to the few belongings that are specifically theirs. They also have a hard time sharing new toys in a play date setting because everything is new and exciting, and they want to be able to play with these new toys as much as possible.

Young children may not understand that they can have another turn in the near future, and they may not understand that sharing is not the same as giving a toy away forever. They worry that their prized possession, or wonderful new discovery, may never be theirs again.

Think about one of your own most valued possessions—your phone, your computer, your car. Now, if a friend borrowed that thing for the day, you might feel nervous and uncertain. You would worry about whether or not it would come back safely to you. And you might be unsettled while it’s in someone else’s possession.

These feelings are at the root of your child struggling to share. Here are some tips to help your child learn how to share appropriately—without any tears or anxiety.

Understand that Sharing Can be Hard
Simply having empathy that this isn’t a minor issue can go a long way in providing the support that your child needs.

Model Sharing Behavior
Make it a point to share your things with your child and talk about what you’re doing. “Would you like a turn using my calculator? I will share it with you. It’s nice to take turns.”

Have Your Child Practice Sharing with You

Sharing with parents feels much safer to a young child than sharing with a peer. They know that you will be careful and they trust that you will give the object back when you’re done. This a great starting point for practicing sharing. Include the commentary while practicing sharing: “Thank you for letting me play with your toy. You shared so nicely and it made me happy.”

Offer Choices to Your Child

Sometimes simply rephrasing your words from a demand to a question can help encourage sharing. “Anne would like to play with a stuffed animal. Which one would you like to share with her?”

Create Sharing Opportunities

Board games and yard games provide many opportunities for children to share and work cooperatively with other children—it’s a great non-threatening way to share. Younger children can benefit from situations where there are plenty of parts for everyone to have their own while still sharing the activity—bring out Play-Doh, crayons and coloring books, mini car collections, or building blocks. It is easier to share when there are plenty of pieces for everyone.

Prepare Your Child
Explain to your child what will be happening in advance of play dates. Discuss how fun it will be to play with the guest. Assure your child that all her toys will all still be hers after the friend leaves, but she needs to share with her friend while she is here.

Put Special Possessions Away
When a friend is coming over to play, it’s best to allow your child to choose some of his favorite things to put away, so that he doesn’t have to worry about sharing them. A child should not be expected to share a brand new gift, favorite doll, the stuffed animal they sleep with, or fragile toys that could get broken. When you don’t require your child to share everything, he should be happier to share those things he selects.

Praise Sharing Behavior
If your child shares, even briefly, praise her for it. Try to keep an eye out for those glimpses of positive behaviors so that you can encourage it to happen more often.

Don’t Punish

If your child is struggling with sharing, it means that he needs to learn more about the process. Be patient and teach your child instead of punishing him. Punishment rarely succeeds in creating positive sharing behavior.

Don’t Embarrass

You might have prepped your child with all of the above steps and set up a good environment for sharing, but your child still might refuse to share. If you need to speak to your child about sharing, do it in private so that you can discuss it calmly and create a plan together. Public shaming is not effective.

Excerpted with permission from The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution: Gentle Ways to Make
Good-bye Easy from Six Months to Six Years by trusted parenting author Elizabeth Pantley.