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Parents often worry when their children don’t share – whether they don’t want to share a parent’s attention with someone else or a toy with another child. But sharing is hard for most children. That doesn’t mean they are selfish. It just means that it takes a long while to be able to share.

Why is sharing so hard? For one thing, children don’t understand what sharing means. If you ask them to share something, they think you are taking it away from them. They don’t know they will get it back. They also have trouble thinking about what someone else wants — they can think about only what they want. Sharing will come in time, as children live and grow up with adults who share.

Great good can come from sharing. We adults can help children come to know that. We can also help them with times when sharing is hard.

Let your Child have Some Things to Own.
Before children can “let go” of something — to share it, they need to know what it means to “hold on” to something — to own it. That’s why it helps your child to have things that belong to just him or her. Let your child have certain things that others can’t take without asking –  a favorite stuffed animal, a new toy, or something special.

A mother of a preschooler found that when her son was in control of when and what he would share, he was much more receptive to sharing his toy.  Instead of using the word “share,” she would say, “Tell your friend that when you are finished playing with that toy, you’ll let him play with it.”  I have a hunch that children are more willing to “share” when they feel they’re in control.

Developing empathy
The ability to share also grows as children develop the ability to see the world through another person’s point of view.  That’s the foundation for empathy, which is the capacity to appreciate how others might feel.   We can help children become more aware of the needs of others by applauding them when they share a toy or a snack or when they comfort someone who is hurt or crying.  It helps to be on the lookout for such times.  Just knowing that you noticed lets your child know that you appreciate those expressions of kindness.

Remember, it takes a long time for children to be able to share. For some children, sharing is easier. Other children may need more caring help.

Helpful Hints

  • Before a friend comes to play, let your child decide which toys someone else can play with.  Put away the toys that your child finds hard to share.
  • Talk with your child about things you have shared, like tools, recipes, and information.
  • Plan one-on-one time with your child.  If children know they will have their parents’ undivided attention, even for a little bit of time each day, they are more likely to be able to share their parents at other times.
  • Set a timer for taking turns.  It’s a neutral timekeeper that helps children trust that when they give up a toy, they will get it back after a certain time.

Produced by: Support from:
The Fred Rogers Company logo   Corporation for Public Broadcasting logo

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