Not all sharing is good or appropriate, yet we are constantly telling children of all ages to share: share your toys, share your books, share your food – share, share, and share! Sometimes the request is actually more of an admonishment than a request: “You must share with your brother.”
In a somewhat misguided effort to promote the concept of sharing and teaching our children how to be “a good friend”, we are often asking them to do something that is beyond their developmental and chronological age.
Imagine if you will, a friend of perhaps even a mere acquaintance approaching you thus: “I love the new diamond earrings your husband gave you for your anniversary, can I have them for Saturday night, please?” Or. “My husband wants to borrow your husband’s new car? Come on, be nice and share.”
Sounds rather silly but in the child’s mind we are essentially asking him to do the same. Is not her new toy just as precious to her as your new “toy” – your car, your jewelry, or your clothes? Why are her possessions any less valuable to her than yours are to you?
Yes, the art and concept of sharing is important to the development of the child but let’s consider the right time to introduce and help the child develop this essential social skill.
The young child (3-6) is in a stage of what we call “self-construction and self-mastery. Children are building concentration and skills through repetition. No doubt you have observed your child repeating the same activity over and over again (the same puzzle or building blocks) until a point of self-satisfaction has been reached and the child moves on to another task. Many activities at this age are solitary and focus on the child developing individual skills. They have a sequence to them or even a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. A child will often experience great frustration if asked to share the activity with another child while he is in the midst of this sequence. Furthermore, children need to feel that their activity is both respected and protected. In other words, that no-one will come and take it from him and he does not need to “defend” it. Have you ever seen a young child quickly pull an activity away or “wrap” his arms around it when he feels “threatened” by another child who wants to share? Conversely, the child in question must also learn that he in turn must respect the toys and activities of other children and not interfere with them either. And so is born mutual respect.
But what about teaching sharing? Around the age of six, group interaction and activities become the norm and children are ready to learn the art of collaboration. In a family with children of different ages, it is helpful to establish some ground rules and guidelines to facilitate the process of sharing and to eliminate conflicts and tears.
Decide which toys, items, activities can be used by all children and visiting playmates
Designate a specific place or shelf for these items
A child may not touch or take another’s toy or activity without permission
A “no” answer must be respected
All toys and activities should be returned to the designated place ready for use by the next child
When children know that they don’t have to share those possessions that are special to them unless they choose to do so, they are actually more likely to be generous with these items. As they enter the elementary years a sense of community and a greater understanding of the concept of sharing begin to emerge. We as adults can help foster that emerging spirit by first understanding the nature of the young child and by offering both encouragement and opportunities that lead to harmony.