Not sharing – a common parental worry!
We regularly hear parents expressing concerns that their child “isn’t good at sharing”.
In truth, this can be a problem with significant numbers of toddlers and pre-school children. However, there are plenty of easy things that can be done to help.
Why won’t your child share?
Although many of us prefer not to think about it, human beings are animals and have a deep animal legacy that evolved over some millions of years.
As a result, there is nothing more natural for a younger child than to be possessive about things. In the distant past, refusing to pass say food to another child, might have made the difference between survival and death.
Today, we might be talking more commonly about sweeties or toys but that ancient survival instinct in very young children may kick in and discourage them from automatically sharing with others.
In most cases, this is nothing to worry about – providing you take steps to deal with it.
Sharing and age
We’re always cautious about stating firm developments by age because each child is so different.
Even so, most pre-toddlers and toddlers don’t really have the capacity to understand sharing.
Around the age of 3-4, they should be capable of showing that they understand the concept of sharing but don’t get too concerned if they’re still unable or unwilling to spontaneously demonstrate it. They may share under direction from an adult but it’s very likely to be done reluctantly.
Up until around 4-5, you may have to expect some tantrums if you try to force them to share with another. Some children seem to grasp the advantages of sharing faster than others but until around the age of 4 or 5, you might still need to be realistic.
Teaching about sharing
One very effective way of encouraging sharing in children is to do so through play.
Encourage them to participate in games with another child where cooperation is required. That cooperation should include the need to share parts of the toys or other components of the game.
This really only works if they’re doing so on a level playing field. If they’re playing with a much older sibling or child then the dynamics will change and your child may share only because they’re intimidated. So, try to match ages.
You’ll also probably need to find some time to supervise initially. Try to encourage the children to share and show how their play will be so much better if they do so.
You should see fairly rapid results but expect some squabbling and don’t intervene every single time. Many children quickly grasp sharing and work things out with the other child involved. They may not need constant coaching.
Explanations and sanctions
However, children can be naturally ‘crafty’. Some will be angels with sharing – right up until you leave the room!
This is perfectly natural. You might need some patience in terms of explaining again why sharing is good and benefits both them and the child or children they’re playing with.
If you do see evidence that a child is seemingly struggling to really commit to sharing, you may need to consider some sanctions. That typically involves removing the toy or game so that the two children see that a failure to share by one means that both suffer.
There is a downside to that collective sanction approach. Some experts argue that this simply punishes the child that might have been sharing fully, thereby discouraging their cooperative behaviour in future. It’s perhaps a fair point in some situations.
Ultimately there are no firm rules here and parental judgement is called for casebycase.
Our policy on sharing
At Byford Child Care, we work hard to develop sharing tendencies in children through structured play.
Working in partnership with parents, we will help develop those characteristics in children so that they’re ideally positioned for cooperative activities when they start school.
We’d welcome further enquiries on this subject.