How to teach sharing: These tips are sure to help you!
In one of the zoo Duplo kits that my children received as a family gift one Christmas, there was only one monkey. Now when you have 4 children, that is a big problem. There were some very important sharing skills that needed to be taught. Fortunately, this Monkey helped me teach sharing.This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our Disclosure Policy for details.
What is Sharing?
What is sharing? When we are talking about sharing in this article, I am referring to children sharing toys and playing together. This means that my one child may own the toy, but another child wants to play with that toy for a short period of time. The toy does not transfer ownership from one child to another. The sharing has a limited time frame.
An Example That is NOT Sharing!
Note: Some people use the example of saying, “Let’s share these cookies with your friend.” I think this is a confusing example, because you arereally giving the cookies to that friend. The cookies definitely are not shared- once eaten, nobody wants to see them again!
Reasons to teach sharing
Why do we share? One reason we want our children to share with each other or with their siblings and friends because it is not financially possible to have one of each toy for each child all the time.
I also wanted my children to share with each other because I wanted them to interact and play nicely with each other. Part of this was selfish—I did not want to be constantly entertaining them. I needed to fix dinner! If I could get the kids to play with each other, they could be constructively involved without constantly getting on my nerves, into trouble, etc.
To be successful at life, you need to be able to get along with others. Sharing toys may be a small first step, but it is a first step!
Sharing involves kindness, empathy and compassion. I wanted those character traits developed in my children. In order to be willing to share, a child has to temporarily relinquish their “rights” to their toy. This is a BIG DEAL to a child.
Problems Children Have With Sharing
A child may not be confident that the toy will be returned, which admittedly does sometimes happen. When my son was about 6 he really liked a toy that his friend Sally* had. This plastic bug had wings. The wings would pop out when you pushed a button. Then you could snap the wings back into place and do it again. So my son asked, and got permission, to borrow this toy bug.
This bug did not get returned the next visit though. Or the next. Or the next! It was always misplaced when we went to visit. How I did not pick up on this, I don’t know. After a while, it just seemed to have disappeared.
I found out later that my son knew exactly where this bug was all the time. When it was returned 10 years later to Sally in a fancy jewelry box, it became a family joke for both families!
Taking Care of Another’s Property
Another problem with sharing: Children may not believe that another child will value their toy sufficiently or take care of it properly. This is a valid concern. No child wants to get his toy truck returned only to find out that it now has only 3 tires.
I do think that parents need to think this through: not all toys may be shareable! If you have a rag doll that great grandma made for your daughter, you may want to put that doll away when the neighbor comes over to play. That doll is too valuable to risk having it damaged.
Not All Toys Are Shareable
Some toys, whether monetarily valuable or not, are emotionally valuable to your child and should not be required to be shared. Someone’s special blanket or teddy bear would fall into this category.
Other items, like a toothbrush, are not shareable because of health concerns. You should talk through these things with your child as the occasion presents itself.
When A Toy Breaks
What should you do if a toy breaks when someone else’s child is playing with it? (Can you see where this sharing idea can get tricky?)
I think you need to look at motivation: Did the child purposely damage the toy? If so, I think it would need to be addressed with the child. “We don’t treat our toys like that. We take care of them so that they don’t break. Now that this toy is broken, we can’t play with it anymore and we’re sad.”
It also may need to be addressed to the parents on the behavior side. “I thought you should know that when your Sally was playing with my Penny’s toy doll today, I watched her purposely rip off the arm. I did talk to her about it, but thought you should know as well.”
If the parents offer a replacement for a broken toy, it is okay to say yes. If the toy was not that valuable to you, it is okay to say, “Thanks for offering but that toy does not need to be replaced.”
If the toy was damaged in normal play, then that needs to be explained to the children. “Whoops! This toy doll was not made well. I’m sorry it broke. Let’s play with something else.”
So how do you teach sharing?
So how do you teach sharing? At our house, the Duplo monkey taught sharing. If the children were playing nicely together with the monkey, GREAT! If they were arguing and fighting over the monkey, I took the monkey and put him up on the top of the refrigerator. The children could get him back by coming up with a plan to share. I must say, this practice helped them to become excellent negotiators.
“Mommy, can we have the monkey back? I am going to play with him first, and then she is going to play with him.”
“Okay, if that’s what happens. But if you are not sharing Monkey, he goes back up on the refrigerator.”
Two minutes later at a loud volume, “Monkey is mine now! Give him to me!”
Into the living room you go to retrieve Monkey from some sweaty little fist and put him back up on the refrigerator while your children glare at each other and you.
“Mommy, we need the Monkey!”
“I have put on the time for 2 minutes. You need to come up with a plan to share the monkey within those 2 minutes and then, if it a good plan, Monkey can come down again.”
(This scenario will play itself over and over until the children realize you are serious about taking Monkey away! This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You will have to see what your children value that will work for your family.)
Have Realistic Expectations About Sharing
Have realistic expectations about behavior and enjoy the day with your children. There will probably be many opportunities tomorrow for teaching. Make sure your teaching includes teaching sharing skills!
When my children were grown up and out of the house, I sent them this poem and a vintage Duplo monkey for Christmas one year:
- When you were a child with Duplos we would play
- But you would get quite riled when Monkey would be stolen away
- “What is all the crying? What has happened now?”
- Well, Monkey had been taken by a sibling somehow
- Tears and cries continued. Peace was far away.
- Then Mommy took the Monkey and no one got to play.
- When the fussing stopped, negotiations began
- Certain blocks were traded and peace was in the land.
- Then Monkey could come down from the shelf to play with you again.
- He’d go on all your adventures with your Duplo friends.
- You’d figure out a formula, an invention, a course to take
- And working all together a solution you would make.
- So here is a special monkey to remind you of those times
- And all the grand adventures found within your mind.
- You are “conquering the world” and finding out your place
- All those skills you learned before will be needed in your race.
- Monkey will remind you as you go, as will this rhyme-
- Of all those great adventures and those wonderful times
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Bonus: Did you always require your child to share?
We did not always require sharing. For example, on a child’s birthday, they were not required to share their gifts. When I was growing up, my parents dealt with this by giving one smaller unbirthday gift to the non-birthday child. The birthday child did not have to share their new toys on their birthday, but the other child/ren also had a new item to play with.
Did you use some gifts primarily to teach sharing?
Yes, we did. As the children got older we purchased a large K’nex rollercoaster set one year as a family Christmas present. I believe the children ranged in ages that year from 12 to 4. All the children had to work on putting the rollercoaster together. If there was any fighting or squabbling, the work had to stop. I think the first time the children assembled the rollercoaster it took at least 4 days. There was a lot of stoppage time! The next time they put the rollercoaster together, they worked together much better and it only took a half day.
Some computer games also work well with teaching sharing and cooperation. I am thinking of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” or the Nancy Drew mystery series games.
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