Sharing is a vital life skill. As children grow they need to make and keep friends and learn to cooperate
The other day I had a short discussion with some parents on the concept of sharing among children. The context was that I was collecting books for a children’s library I was helping with in Damauli. All the parents said they had tons of children’s books at home but the problem was that their children would not share. They just wanted the books for themselves. I was disappointed with the inability of their children to share the joy they felt when they themselves read those books. I felt sorry for those children who have not learned to share. For young children, learning to share is a huge challenge. But they need to learn it nonetheless, for play purpose and for becoming responsible adults in their later lives. Sharing is a very important life skill.
I know, some parents are thinking, ‘why is sharing so important?’ Well you all know sharing is a vital life skill. As children grow they need to make and keep friends and learn to cooperate. Sharing teaches children to compromise and negotiate on rules they set. At the same time they also learn to take turns and deal with disappointments gracefully. They also learn that if they give, in return they also get what they want.
Children love to share as babies. I am sure you too remember your baby giving you things when you asked for them and then you returned those things back to your child. You made it a fun thing and they enjoyed it as a game. When a little older, they happily shared their cookies and sweets when they were told to. According to research, children who regularly experience generosity become generous persons themselves. You will notice all these things if your children are happy and relaxed. So now the question is, ‘what makes children relaxed?’
Children relax when their needs are met. Young children have very few needs: parents, love and affection, good food, good sleep, fresh air, room to play safely, and access to people who are committed to their well-being. At the same time they also want respect for their intelligence. These are the bare necessities of a child. Apart from these children also need a few more things to relax and no, its not toys or sweets.
They need lots of affection, a welcoming atmosphere and a feeling of security. They need frequent opportunities to laugh with others, while playing and in general. Sometimes young children have comfort objects that they do not want to share. Respect this attachment and not force them to share those. Initially, sharing is a challenge for a young child. They don’t want to give away their things to a stranger. Yes, some children don’t want to share at all.
I have noticed through the years that when children are gripped by strong desire, there can be no substitute for their object of obsession. I am sure parents will agree with me that if their child does not want to share, it is like their whole body is organized to communicate to you that having that particular thing, at that moment, is the key to their happiness and nothing else will make them happy. In such circumstances enforcing sharing or taking turns is easier said than done. At the same time avoiding sharing situations is not an option either. Rather facilitating it is the name of the game.
Children learn from adults. Remember the saying, ‘monkey see, monkey do’? So parents, it is up to you to set a good example of sharing. When you share within the family, you are setting a good example for your children to follow. Start by you sharing something with your child. Conversations like, ‘Let us share this cookie, you can have some and I can have a bit’, help initiate the process. Make them feel proud if they share their candies, cookies or even toys or books with their friend.
If your children are fighting for the same book to read, you might want to tell them the consequences of not sharing; that you will take the book away from both. You can also show them the advantage of sharing the book: they can talk about it later when both have read it. This gives them the opportunity to choose; then negotiating and coming to an agreement on reads first becomes easier. Don’t forget to appreciate when they share.
While we are teaching children to share, it is important to understand age appropriate levels of sharing as well.
Toddlers do not understand the concept of sharing. They believe everything belongs to them. Even if you introduce them to the concept of sharing they will not put it into practice. By the age of three, they start understanding the concept of turn taking and sharing. It is still very likely at this stage that if someone takes their toys, they will throw a tantrum to get it back.
Most preschoolers understand the basic concept of sharing but are still shaky about implementing it and waiting for a turn is painful. At this age reinforcement and appreciation are the key to strengthening sharing and turn-taking skills. Sometimes, simple conversations and discussions about being fair and understanding others’ feelings help children see things from someone else’s point of view, which is a very important skill in making friends.
School-age children understand that their feelings are different to the feelings of other people. Then again, they might not share if they think it’s not fair on them. Under such circumstances you might want to intervene and run a check of the rules of the game they are playing and assure that s/he will get a turn.
Finally, being possessive is a natural part of a child’s developmental process. Growing children develop attachments to things as well as people. This is important for them to develop into emotionally healthy persons. It is natural for young children to be selfish before being ready to share. Understanding this makes life easier for both children and parents. True sharing implies empathy and children under six are seldom capable of true empathy. If your child is already sharing, then it is because you did a good job preparing them to do so. Please remember children younger than two and half years do not share.
They rather like playing along with other children, but not with them. At this age children care more about themselves and their possessions and not much about what the other child wants or feels.
Still, with proper guidance, generosity and patience on parents’ part, the same child can grow up into a generous three- or four-year-old. As children start playing with each other and cooperate in their play, they begin to see the value of sharing. So please, parents, don’t force young children to share. Instead, create attitudes and an environment that encourages your child to want to share. Now this is not so difficult, right parents?
The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books