Monday, May 9, 2011

Helping Children Learn to Share

**UPDATE: Whoops! I goofed on dates and actually talked about fighting with your teenagers today on CBS 11. I promise that, when I do talk about sharing, I'll post the clip :)

Be sure to check back later tonight for my CBS 11 clip on this topic!

Is your child good at sharing? No? Well, get with the program, because your preschooler should be a sharing pro.


The truth is that preschoolers just aren’t good at sharing. We all know this. What’s interesting is that, even when children know that they should share, they still have a really hard time doing it. You know this as parents, but the research supports it, too. In fact, one study found that 100% of 6-12 year olds know that not sharing is wrong and another study found that even preschoolers know that a pile of candy should be split evenly between two people...but kids still have trouble sharing!

Why? The research jury is still out, but it’s likely that desire is so strong at young ages that it trumps everything else. Very young children just have a lot of trouble overriding the desire for a toy (or a sticker, or a treat, or what have you) in order to share with someone else.

Got it. I know what you’re thinking. This does not help me in the throws of preschooler play date meltdown when my child is screaming because I am ‘helping’ him share his toys with his friend.

So what can you do as a parent to help you child learn to share? Some research suggests that how you act may influence your kids more than you think!

Recent research suggests that parents may have quite a bit of influence over teaching children sharing skills- from simply modeling sharing themselves! Preliminary studies from researchers at Harvard University suggest that, when children see their parents being generous to others, young children follow suite – they are more generous with a resource (like stickers) than when they see parents being stingy to others. For older children, however, parents modeling stinginess seems to make an impact on children. That is, older children who see their parent being stingy with a resource are more likely to be stingy in turn. These results are only preliminary, but interesting, huh?

What does this mean for parents and teaching kids to share? Well, kids really are watching what you do! Model generosity in your everyday life- and add dialogue with your child so that she knows why being generous and sharing is a good thing. Here are a few other things you can do to encourage your child to share:

  • Model sharing with your child as you play, spelling it out explicitly. Try something like this: “Oh! I just realized I’ve been coloring with the blue crayon for a while now without sharing! Would you like a turn now? I’m happy to share it with you.”
  • Notice when your child does share. Ask him questions about his behavior. Try it like this: “I noticed how kindly you shared your Legos with your brother today. What made you decide to do that?”
  • Talk about how sharing makes your child and others feel. Try something like this: “Sharing is kind and makes people feel good. How did you feel when your sister shared her ice cream with you yesterday?”

References and additional information:

Killen, M. (1990). Children's evaluations of morality in the context of peer, teacher-child, and familial relations. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 151, 395-410.


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