Helping Children Learn to Share

As parents and teachers, we all want children to share, be generous, be fair, and play nicely.  However, sharing can be challenging.  Developmentally, it is often difficult for kids to consider the desires and feelings of other people, especially when being asked to give something up.  But, this doesn’t mean teaching kids to share is impossible.  In fact, guiding children through the sharing process helps them to develop stronger skills.  Here are some tips for supporting sharing in your home or classroom:

Define Sharing

  • What Does Sharing Mean? One of the most important ways to support sharing is to spend time explaining to children that there are lots of different ways to share.  Talking about all the different ways we can share shows children that sharing helps everyone have more fun, and is about more than just about giving up your favorite toy.  We can share by:
    • Sharing materials (games, toys, art supplies, etc.)
    • Sharing the space around you
    • And even sharing friends
  • Why is Sharing Important? While it is ok for children to say no to sharing from time to time, showing children why it is important to share may encourage them to try to share more often.  Explaining the importance of sharing can vary on the age or development of individual children, but here are some helpful phrases to use with children that can be used across a wide range of abilities:
    • Sharing is a great way to be a friend
    • Sharing makes others feel good
    • Sharing makes you feel good too!
    • When we share, others are more likely to share with us
    • It’s fun to share with others!

Teaching Skills vs. Solving the Problem

When we explain, guide, and practice a new skill with children, we are moving them towards independence and a deeper understanding of the skill.  This method is called scaffolding. When it comes to sharing, scaffolding solutions with children (vs. jumping in and solving their problems) provides them with the opportunity to build a long term skill. Instead of saying things like, “You have five more minutes with the truck then it’s Johnny’s turn,” try giving kids their own phrases to use so they can be successful without adult intervention. With younger children or those who need a little extra help building this skill, you can even model phrases for the child to use until they are comfortable doing it on their own.  By doing this, you allow the child to have control of the situation and give them a chance to build their own success. Here are some simple phrases you can teach children:

  • When asking to share:
  • “Can I play?”
  • “Can I have a turn when you are done?”
  • “Would you like to work on something together?”
  • “I like your tower/drawing/puzzle, can I have a try?”
  • When being asked to share:
  • “Sure, come play!” or “Let’s play together!”
  • “You can have a turn when I am done”
  • “In two minutes”
  • “I’m using it right now but I will give it to you when I am finished”
  • When other kids say “no”, it’s important to have handy phrases like:
  • “Oh well”
  • “Maybe later”
  • “I’ll go do something else.”

What Else Can We Do?

In addition to providing language for sharing, there are several other ways we as parents and teachers can encourage sharing:

  • Model. Their eyes are on you, so go out of your way to model sharing. Model good asking, good responses when someone asks you to share, as well as handling disappointment when things don’t work out.
  • Practice. Before doing an activity that will require sharing, practice it!  If you are going to be using playdough that day, practice how to ask someone to share, and what to do when some asks you.
  • Provide opportunities to share. Embedding chances to practice sharing into the home or school environment can help kids feel more confident in their skills. For example, you could purposefully put out too few playdough toys/books/glue sticks for an activity.  You can say to kids, “Hmmm, there don’t seem to be enough glue sticks for everyone, what can we do?”  Provide them with an opportunity to show you what they know and help them come up with solutions, if needed.
  • Praise efforts.  Acknowledge that sharing can be difficult.  Even adults don’t always do a great job of it. Make sure to praise children (and label the skill) when they do a good job of sharing, by saying things like, “Wow! You are really good at sharing!” and “You are such a good friend!  I bet that made Johnny feel so good when you shared your favorite truck with him.

Also, be sure to give plenty of praise when kids do a good job of handling the disappointment of not getting what they wanted. Even though sharing is a vital social skill, it is okay for kids to choose not share sometimes.  Encouraging kids to handle that disappointment well can help maintain positive relationships between peers.   You can say things such as…

    • “It’s hard to wait”
    • “Great job saying, ‘Oh well’!”
    • “I really like how you handled that! Would you like to see this cool thing over here?!”

Teaching with Books

Modeling, practicing, and providing sharing opportunities are helpful ways for kids to exercise their sharing muscles. And as always, books can provide a wonderful opportunity to enrich sharing skills.  Here are some great children’s books about sharing and friendships:

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Little Critter: I am Sharing by Mercer Mayer

It’s Mine by Leo Lionni


Image source: Dreamstime



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