Like most concepts we teach to children, sharing begins before they can actually do it. Introduce your children to the topic when they begin the parallel-play process as toddlers, even though formal sharing will not kick in until a little later. When two or more kids are playing together, the inevitable stealing from one another will happen. At that moment, intervene and say “It’s her turn now. Share it with her and then you can have a turn.” You are setting a limit, and your child will not like it. Be consistent and warm, and she will gradually get it. In the beginning, offer her another toy. Remember, a toddler is not going to understand the whole concept, so don’t worry.

After age two or so, children can better understand sharing. Use it as a principle that you monitor and enforce. But, like all principles, they are not rigid rules. There are times when you as an adult share things and times when you don’t. Sometimes when your child says, “I want to play with this,” that’s not necessarily selfish if she also is learning to share. The danger is when your child is not developing balance, but is on one extreme or the other. If she cannot assert what she wants, or cannot share, either of those is out of balance. Watch for the ability to do both.

Use the formula that works for most concepts that you are trying to teach. First, explain what you want from her. “I want you guys to share. Make sure everyone gets a turn.” Second, monitor the process, both positive and negative. When you see her share, say, “That was really nice to share your crayons with Abby. I really like that. Good job.” Or, if she fails to share, say, “I want you to share and give your friend a turn on the bike. If you don’t, you can’t ride it any more today.” Enforce what you desire. Then, if she throws a fit, enforce the limits regarding her attitude. “I want you to stop yelling right now, or you can go into time out. You can only play if you play without screaming.” The principle is teach, monitor, reward, enforce and shape the response using more praise, rewards or consequences.

Don’t be afraid to teach your child that the world does not revolve around her. Allow her to see that she cannot have everything she wants. Sharing is a key to life. Model sharing the way you want her to learn it, and don’t worry that you don’t share everything with her. That’s the way life works. It’s okay to say, “I will share my ice cream with you,” and “No, you can’t play with that necklace. That’s for Mommy only.” If you want, ask her before playtime what she wants to share and what she doesn’t, but don’t allow that to become too territorial. There are some sacred cows, like the favorite stuffed animal, “transitional object” or blanket, but don’t let her make everything off limits to others.

Overall, see if she is becoming the person you would want to have as a friend. In our book, Boundaries with Kids, the principle is called, “The Future Is Now.” Project your daughter’s behavior into adulthood, and then intervene. If you like what you see, reward it. If you don’t, take the moment to teach.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, psychologists, leadership coaches and the authors of many books, selling over 5 million copies, including Raising Great Kids, Boundaries, Boundaries with Kids and Mom Factor — as well as the hosts of the syndicated national radio program “New Life Live.”
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How are you teaching your child(ren) to share?