Less selfishness, more sharing

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Do you ever feel like a wind-up doll, spouting the same phrases over and over again? “Take turns with your sister!”, “Share with your brother!”, “Why can’t you two learn to share?”, “If you can’t share, I’m taking that toy away.”

Because it is a skill we have lovingly modelled, explained and encouraged roughly 3000 times already this week, it would be nice to think that kids would choose to share more often than they do. The way to avoid major frustration over this issue is to get your expectations in line with reality – in the preschool years, you can lay a foundation for sharing behaviour, but since it is a very complex social skill, few children will ever really master it in the preschool years.

Their concept of time works against them. “You can have a turn in five minutes” might as well be, “Next month” and, “Not yet” can be as good as, “Never” for a two year old living completely in ‘the now’. So it is little wonder they explode when asked to wait. We cringe when our kids exhibit such self-centred behaviour (especially in public!), but we need to remember that until around three and a half years old, their brains don’t really process the fact that other people have needs and desires that are different but just as important as their own. Even after this age the understanding of the other’s point of view grows only gradually.

Bear in mind too that the legalities of ownership are very complex for a little one to understand. “So this is my toy but when others come over I’m expected to share it around – and when we’re at playgroup, who do those toys belong to? I was holding a truck and another boy took it – can he do that if it wasn’t mine to begin with? Can I do that too? If I’m holding it, then surely it’s mine? If I’m playing with the trains, shouldn’t I get to control the whole track?” These are big questions for a growing mind.

So don’t stop laying the foundations, but don’t expect miracles in the sharing department with your under-fives. Understand that while it won’t happen overnight, it can happen. Continue to model and encourage them to work out creative ways to find win-win situations, in later years your children will reap the rewards of your hard (and repetitive!) work.


  • Label your child as a good sharer – role play at home
  • Say things such as, “Josh is learning to share” within his hearing
  • Don’t force a child to share, instead create attitudes and an environment that encourages your child to want to share. Watch how your child operates in a group play setting. You’ll learn what kind of guidance they will need.
  • If your child is a ‘grabber’ he will discover that other kids don’t want to play with him. If he is always a victim she needs to learn the power of saying ‘no’.


  • Kids who have been on the receiving end of generosity tend to copy the model they have been given and to grow into generous people.
  • A child who feels secure is more likely to share. He needs fewer things to validate himself.
  • True sharing involves empathy. Children have difficulty with empathy under the age of six.
  • It’s easier to share with someone younger or a visitor rather than a sibling. Let your child practise sharing with a younger child.

Talking points

  • Some friends are coming over today to play – which toys are you happy to share?
  • Where could you put the things that are just for you?
  • What do you do when someone grabs one of your favourite things?
  • All children come across conflicts in their daily situations. As you talk to your children about these problems you will help them cope and find solutions.

Things to try

Talk about your own sharing and giving in such a way that your child will understand that it gives you pleasure. “Let’s take these biscuits around to Aunty Leanne because they are her favourites.” Be a family that shares things with others. Children pick up your values about sharing so include them in sorting out what they would like to give to the kindy garage sale or take to the Salvation Army shop. This all helps them to see sharing as a way of life.

Bring out the puppets (two socks will do) and have a fun little squabble. “That’s my zollywop” (it’s important to give things silly names). “No, it’s mine and I had it first.” Children will often make sense of sharing when we treat it with some fun and ridiculousness.

Family Coach Jenny Hale talks about sharing


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