Teaching Your Kids to Share

Sharing doesn’t come easily. But with patience and empathy, you can help your child develop this critical skill.

By Eve Pearlman
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Teaching children to share is a hard task. But by taking it in stages and bringing empathy for the child's view to the fore, parents can build domestic peace, according to Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Children and Fairness

Most children don't understand the concept of "mine" and "yours" until they're 3 years old. But toddlers, Karp says, come with an innate sense of fairness, "though it's not usually quite in line with adults'. With most of us it's about 50-50," he says. "For toddlers it's more about 90-10. It's, 'Here, I'll keep 90% and I'll give you this one little toy.'"

The first step, before jumping in to correct a child (as parents tend to do), is "to acknowledge the needs and the desires of the child," Karp says. "When we just drop in and try to solve it, that doesn't feel good. Children need to know their desires are appreciated and respected." And when your kid successfully shares a toy, reward the behavior with an enthusiastic high five or "nice job." Even better, Karp says, adults can give voice to Elmo telling a stuffed bear about the child's behavior.

"We all pay more attention to what we overhear," Karp says. Children will appreciate the third-party compliment. And the technique might just leave you giggling together -- which is good for everyone.

Sharing Strategies

Prep for play dates. Let toddlers or preschoolers choose some of their most loved possessions to set aside before other children come over. Siblings, especially older brothers and sisters, can have some toys designated just for them.

Make it clear. "Kids get a much better sense of what you want if you use the term 'taking turns,'" Karp says. They’ve learned to take turns in infancy through babbled "conversation" with caregivers, he says. Explain that toys work the same way -- everyone gets a turn.

Talk it up. "You can notice and point out sharing in day-to-day life," Karp says. "'Look at that man. He's sharing the bread with the bird.'" Pointing out what other people do is, Karp says, "an effective way of planting the seed."

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