“No, mine!” All parents of young children have heard these words at some point. While children may not be natural sharers, as adults, we recognise that sharing is a vital skill that lays the foundation for building positive relationships, empathy, and cooperation.
So, how can we teach our children how to share? Ultimately, teaching your child the art of sharing is all about ensuring their interactions with others are filled with kindness and compassion. As children explore and navigate their environment, understanding the value of sharing becomes a magical bridge that connects them to a world of compassion and togetherness, no matter how you choose to define “sharing.”
At which age do children learn to share?
Sharing is considered a developmental milestone. Similar to your little one not being able to walk until they are physically ready, they can only learn to share once they are socially ready. According to research, children younger than three years old are unable to understand the concept of sharing. This fact correlates to the development of empathy, which only starts budding between the ages of 3 and 5. This is usually when parents will see young children willingly share with others.
So, what does empathy look like in children? Emotional awareness is one of the foundations of empathy and is about understanding how others may be feeling regarding a specific situation. Considering how others may feel, recognising and naming their emotions, and offering emotional support when needed are just a few other components that form part of what empathy may look like in children.
Because young children are still learning empathy, they do not have the ability to understand how their classmates may feel when they grab a toy from their hands. While this can provide a challenge to parents, this should not stop you from teaching your child how to share.
Here are a few ways you can teach your child how to share:
Model The Behaviour
The old saying “monkey see, monkey do” is true in the case of children. Kids learn and imitate behaviours by observing those around them, and parents are the ultimate individuals from which they model their behaviour. A great way to teach sharing is by making an example of this. It can be as simple as sharing ice cream with your child while enjoying a break on the couch or announcing that you’re sharing a book with your spouse. Try something along the lines of: “I am done reading my favourite book, so I’m going to share this with Daddy.” The key is to keep it simple and weave it into your daily life.
Use a Timer
Visuals or cues are always helpful when teaching your child how to share, and adding a timer can be a great tool. Your child will learn how to take turns while they’re enjoying a playdate. The idea is to lessen the shock your little one may feel when they have to share a toy or swing set with someone else. Set the timer for two minutes and then ask your child to share the toy with you. You may need to do a few cycles of this, using empathetic language to make sure they know they’re doing a good job.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes… almost perfect. As with any skill, it’s important for your little one to practice the skill of sharing. While using a timer can help you do this, you can go a step further by incorporating it into your daily habits, and Practical Life Activities provide the perfect opportunity. Whether you’re cutting vegetables or baking a cake together, take a moment to ask if you can have a turn mixing the batter or chopping the veggies. Play is also a wonderful way to practice sharing. Ask your child whether you can have a turn building the tower or playing with their blocks – there are countless opportunities to practice sharing!
Let Things Unfold Naturally
We all want to protect our children from making mistakes that will cause them harm, but sometimes things should unfold naturally in order for them to learn from these mistakes. Natural opportunities occur when there is no adult intervention, and a child experiences the consequences of their choices. This can look like a disagreement between kids fighting over a toy and while it may be tempting to step in, the children will work things out on their own if you’re willing to wait a moment. As long as things don’t turn physical, allow your child to experience the natural consequence of their actions.
Use Encouraging Words
It’s important for you to offer your child positive reinforcement, which can be done by using encouraging words. For example, you might say, “I’m so proud of you for sharing your toy with Sarah today!” Young kids do well when they’re given lots of encouragement, a helpful tool when teaching how to share.
Through patience, understanding, and gentle guidance, you can encourage your little ones to embrace the joy of sharing, and in doing so, you’ll witness the blossoming of empathy and compassion within them. While teaching young children to share is no easy task, by using some of the Montessori sharing tips above, you are one step closer to creating a friendly and understanding environment that allows sharing to blossom.