Recently, we preschool teachers were chatting with a few parents about the issue of sharing. What a simple but loaded concept! We’ve all been there: our child is playing happily with a favorite toy and along comes another child who wants the same toy. “Share!” we beam, telling our child they can have the toy for one more minute before they need to hand it over. Our child is devastated and we’re left with the uneasy sense we’ve done something wrong. But at least we were a decent person and encouraged our child to strengthen a virtue! Right?
Well, maybe not. Years ago, in the course of our training and experience working with young children, we read something that changed how we view and approach the issue of sharing. A researcher was encouraging parents and educators to view sharing through an adult lens to understand the impact of mandated sharing on children. If we look at preschool play situations through an adult lens, we would certainly refrain from telling an adult to relinquish something they were using after an arbitrary time limit. Doing so would be strange, so why do we ask this of our children? For example, if you had a set of weights at the gym, would someone ask you to share or would they wait until you were done? They’d wait. When working with children, we try to keep this in mind. At Ecole Des Petits Amis, we allow our preschoolers to decide when their turn is done rather than have us decide or enforce sharing with the use of a timer. We also model for them how to ask others to share and how to respond to a request to share.
“Could you share with me, please?
“When I’m done.”
Once our preschoolers have grasped these concepts and can respectfully request and respond to sharing queries, we find that we only occasionally need to intervene in sharing conflicts.
Sharing is not necessarily a concept that children are born with. Some research suggests that it may be a concept that children do not fully grasp until age five (https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/ways-to-teach-sharing/?slide=slide_734c30b3-37b6-4b9d-aafe-61e536d1d7be#slide_734c30b3-37b6-4b9d-aafe-61e536d1d7be). We should be realistic about how early our preschoolers can master this skill. The idea of sharing will need to be taught and retaught, ideally through play, games, stories and great modelling. Once we’ve stressed what sharing looks like, we need to allow children to practise these important life skills. A quote we love: “Children cannot learn to negotiate problems if they are not allowed to have them.” (http://preschool-plan-it.com)
“Children cannot learn to negotiate problems if they are not allowed to have them.” (http://preschool-plan-it.com)
A great piece of advice is to allow children to put away special items they do not wish to share during play dates. We follow this advice at preschool as well. If a child brings something special to preschool and doesn’t wish to share it, we ask them to leave the item in their backpack.
Benefits of Sharing
Sharing is a social skill that is essential for relating to and working with others. It helps us make and keep friends. It asks us to take the perspective of another and teaches us about compromise and fairness. Sharing teaches us to take turns and to deal with disappointment.
Ultimately, sharing takes us out of ourselves and demonstrates that the roots of empathy within us have grown strong enough to adopt the viewpoint of another. When children are given the chance to practice sharing respectfully on their own terms, they will find themselves on both sides of the equation: wanting a toy someone else has, and having a toy that someone else wants. We love watching this process unfold at preschool and observing how the issue of sharing helps hone empathy in children. With enough practice on opposite sides of the sharing equation, and enough gentle coaching on graciously requesting and responding to sharing requests, children develop the empathy and understanding to know how the child opposite them is feeling.
Sharing teaches empathy. It also teaches boundaries. Watching our preschoolers develop these skills through the practice of sharing is highly rewarding.
Teaching Our Children to Share
Perhaps the best way to teach our preschoolers to share is to model for them what sharing means. How do you share playdough? Are you breaking your piece in half? How do you share the cars? Give one or two to your friend? Trade them for a different car? Practice sharing with your child, as well as with your spouse and other children so they can see this concept at work. We make time for practising sharing by engaging in lots of free play at Ecole Des Petits Amis (https://www.ecoledespetitsamis.com/2020/02/05/why-do-we-spend-time-playing-or-the-importance-of-preschool-play/). You can take turns picking the movie at home or where to sit at dinner. If your child is very resistant to sharing, you can also try role modeling how it feels when someone doesn’t share. And don’t forget to praise your child when they demonstrate great sharing with others!
Sharing Activities and Books
Cooperative games by Peaceable Kingdom like ‘Hoot Owl Hoot!’ or ‘Feed The Woozle’ ask children to work together to accomplish a goal. Even without an overall winner, cooperative games teach important concepts like turn taking, communication and cooperation.
A great game idea from kids.lovetoknow.com is ‘Shiny, Shiny Apple’. It’s essentially the opposite of Hot Potato. You pass around the shiny apple (or ball) and the goal is to end up with the apple. While you want to keep the apple to win, you need to share it around the circle.
Many of the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Williams, such as “Should I Share My Ice Cream?” impart great lessons like sharing and turn-taking through humour. “Llama Llama Time to Share” by Anna Dewdney is another great book option about sharing toys with others. Lastly, “That’s Not Mine” by Anna Kang tells the story of two bears who both want the same chair but eventually decide to do something else together.
What are some ways that you encourage your child to share at home? We love hearing about your experiences. Keep us posted on your stories and successes with sharing!