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Learning to Share

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Tuesday, June 05, 2018

By:  Michele Tryon, CCLS

I attended a toddler/preschool play event this morning and was reminded of the challenges that arise when young children are learning to share. One of the games the children played was a balloon toss. The idea was to take a balloon and toss it, hit it, kick it, or bounce it to another child and then catch it when they tossed, hit, kicked, or bounced it back to you. Of course, there were more children than balloons, and since children this age are just learning that they can own something and discovering the word “mine”— many of them weren’t having it.

When a child picked a balloon from the bag, you could almost hear the wheels turning in their young brain. I imagine their thoughts were something like, “This is my balloon. It belongs to me. I like my balloon.” The parents and facilitators encouraged the little ones to share – and there were some successes. A few of the 3 and 4 year-old children understood the point of the game, and recognized that their balloon was coming back to them. There were tears from others, who didn’t quite get the concept of give and take, and a couple of grab and runs for those determined to hang on to their possession. There was a kind gesture, too. One child started to cry and another offered her a balloon, to which she replied, “thank you” as her tears dried.

If we were to put this in adult terms, can you imagine if you got a new iPhone and were told immediately you had to share it with your friend or spouse? And yes, balloons are as exciting to children as new technology devices are to adults. A child who is reluctant to share is not being selfish, they are simply figuring out expectations and are generally enjoying the toy, or cookie, or person, etc. that they have.

Sharing is an important social skill that children will need to succeed. Learning to share is a part of healthy development, and we as parents and caregivers can teach and encourage it.

Sharing Tips:

  1. Be patient. They are learning. They are not selfish. They are just beginning to understand the concept of owning something and belonging.
  2. Take turns. Say, “let’s take turns,” rather than, “let’s share.” This way the child understands they will get another turn, another time.
  3. When I am done. If one child is playing with a toy, another child can learn to say, “Can I have a turn when you are done?” Young children move from one thing to another pretty quickly.
  4. Use a timer. For shared toys, use a timer to indicate when a turn is up. Each child has the same amount of time to play.
  5. Some items are not shard items. Allow a child to have some items that they do not have to share. For instance, a favorite stuffed animal or blanket that is a comfort or attachment item would not be a shared item. Parents need to help discern when this item can be out and when it needs to be put away during active play.
  6. Model. Adults can encourage good sharing behavior by thanking a child for sharing when they hand them something – even if it is a half-eaten cookie or yucky bug.
  7. Sharing activities. Do sharing activities with groups of two or more children. For example, when painting, children can share the same paints, but each can have their own brush.
  8. Read stories about sharing. “Llama Llama, Time to Share” is one of my favorites.

Don’t forget CHKD likes to share! We have FREE online parenting resources and a calendar of parenting workshops to support you as you navigate the parenting journey.



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.