by Stephanie Hope
Author of “I Don’t Have to Share”
Commonly used phrases in any childhood social setting are ‘Can you share?’ or ‘Sharing is caring’. Sharing is seen as an obligatory attribute that our children must implement from a very young age.
The pressure within society to raise kind, generous children that always share can result in caregivers forcing children to share before they’ve learnt empathy or self-regulation.
If sharing is forced it can feel like a punishment, consequently, the word share is no longer understood as an act of kindness and generosity, rather something unenjoyable.
Sharing is an important part of friendship forming; learning this skill allows children to play co-operatively by taking turns, developing patience and managing disappointment. Allowing children to experiment with sharing and not sharing will contribute to understanding compromise, fairness, and conflict resolution.
It is crucial we recognise and accept that sharing is difficult, even for adults and especially for young children. Some children will be more likely to want to share than others and all children develop at different stages. Ergo, a child who is more possessive is not being bad or unkind.
So, what can we implement as caregivers to organically instil sharing?
1. Keep sharing optional
Adults can decide which of their belongings to share and with whom. When an adult is using something, another person waits until they are finished, children should be taught and given the same respect.
If we force children to share, they will leave the encounter feeling aggrieved, not generous. Unsurprisingly, they’re less likely to share after that.
2. Model generosity
Copycat behaviour in children is universal, so when sharing it’s important to label it. If we model frequent generosity and sharing it is likely our children will implement the same.
Give plenty of specific praise when you observe your child sharing with their peers, “That was really kind of you to share your snack with Toby, did you see how happy it made him?”
Specific praise will encourage repetition of the behaviour and help identify how sharing made them and others feel. Eventually children will take the initiative to share without influence to reap its positive rewards.
4. Make exceptions
There are many scenarios a child not sharing should be accepted and respected. Some examples include; if a certain toy is special to them, if they are still focused on an activity, or if they have set up their own imaginative game.
5. Guide children to come up with solutions
When we intervene in a social interaction by insisting that a child shares, we are also interrupting a learning experience. If children are refusing to share, rather than insisting that they take turns or give up a toy, instead, guide them to finding their own solution or compromise. “There’s only one car and you both want to play with it, what could we do?”
6. Teach assertive responses
It would be beneficial for children to learn a handful of phrases they can use repeatedly in social situations where they don’t have to share and have decided not to. Pairing positive assertiveness with kindness will help them develop respect for themselves and for others.
To summarise, learning to share with grace is progressive. With plenty of opportunities to practice, conflicts included, children will discover the importance of sharing and respectively when it is okay NOT to share.
To help children identify some situations in which they shouldn’t have to share, award-winning authors Toni McAree & Stephanie Hope have released a bright, rhyming book controversially titled ‘I Don’t Have to Share’. Readers follow a fun character, Haz the Monster, through different scenarios where he is asked to share. How Haz the Monster responds to his peers teaches children assertiveness, confidence, and respect in regards to sharing.
“My Mum says I don’t have to share this toy, it’s my special one you see, I’ve had it all my life and don’t want anyone touching it but me.”
‘I Don’t Have to Share’ is available now on Amazon. £5.27