6 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Share

If you've ever found yourself screaming "Share!" or insisting that your child give his playmate a toy, you're in good company. Sometimes it can seem impossible to get kids to act unselfishly. Yet research shows that even young toddlers show a willingness to share. How do you nurture that instinct? Before resorting to demands, consider ways to teach fairness and recognize that forcing kids is not likely to work.

By age three, your child can understand the concept of sharing. With some guidance, she'll likely become more willing as she matures. Here are ways that psychologists say you can promote sharing:

1. Do what you say. As with everything else, you are your child's best teacher here. If you want her to share, you need to show her what sharing is. If someone gives you a box of candy, offer her a piece. Talk about the fact that making her happy with that candy makes you happy. Let her see you sharing with others as well, and remember to use the same words you expect her to use - "please" and "thank you."

2. Say what you mean. While the definition of "sharing" is clear to you, a young child may not understand all of its nuances. Sometimes you give someone something to keep, like when you share a cookie (no one's getting that back). Other times, the person just borrows the item. When you ask a child to share his race car, how does he know which type of sharing is expected? Explain that the other child will only use it for a short time and let him know when he'll get it back:  "Let your pal play with the car now, and he'll return it before snack time."

3. Prepare to share. There are times and places where sharing is going to be expected, like play dates. Talk it up beforehand so your child knows what to expect and can actually get excited about swapping playthings. Establishing guidelines for common situations helps, too. Whenever you go to the playground, for instance, teach her that whatever she brings, she shares.

4. Give kids a chance to work it out. What happens when, despite all your preparations, your child won't share his playground ball? First, don't jump in. It's understandable if you worry about your child being selfish, but before you get involved, give kids a chance to resolve things on their own. They may tug over the toy a few minutes and that could turn into a game; the other child may walk away and when your child realizes he's lost a playmate, he'll change his mind.

5. Don't bully your kid into sharing. If a fight ensues or your child is upsetting a younger child, you may need to step in. Many psychologists, however, say that you shouldn't demand he share. Taking the ball away in anger and giving it to the other child can backfire. A preschooler will likely tantrum and an older child may decide that next time, he'll fight harder to hold on to his stuff. Instead, try to talk up the good things about sharing (you can play with it together, you have to share with others if you want to try their toys, etc.). If he still resists, try to break the cycle of frustration by changing the scene - maybe it's time for that snack now. When he's calm, ask him why he won't share. Is he afraid that the other child won't give it back? Did that same playmate once break another toy? Address those specific concerns.

6. Be ready for the "She's Not Sharing" whine. Sometimes your child is the one who isn't getting a turn. In those cases, again, experts recommend not intervening if you can help it. If the kids don't resolve things, tell your child to find something else to play with. Afterwards, you can explain to your child that sharing is not required, but that it's something that your family values. This is an opportunity to explain to your child that she may not always get her way. Knowing how upset unfair behavior makes her can actually motivate your child to be better about sharing so others won't feel bad.



D'Costa, Krystal. "Cooperation Is Child's Play." Scientific American. Web. December 13, 2011.

Hawes, Daniel R., Grazioplene, Rachael. "Sharing Among Children." Psychology Today. Web. December 13, 2011.

March, Jason. "Does Sharing Come Naturally to Kids." The Greater Good. Web. December 13, 2011.