Mine, Mine, Mine. My son sounds just like the birds from Finding Nemo. To make matters more difficult, my wife and I expect our children to share some toys and not others. To our children, it must seem like a revolving door of rules. All these idiosyncrasies make it hard for our children to learn and for us to teach them.
According to Dr. Sears, children less than 2 years of age are unlikely to share. By age 4-5, you may expect selective sharing, they still will not part with their most treasured possessions. Good news, research shows that as children get older they are more willing. It does take some time, teaching, practice and a whole heap of patience.
Why We Teach Our Children to Share: Sharing is one way we show love to another person and that we follow Jesus’ command. The Bible teaches us to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). Sharing provides opportunities to teach others about Jesus and His desire for us to love each other.
Talk to Them: I think you can start telling them about sharing when they are young. They may still be too young to share, but that should not stop us from talking about it. As they get older, don’t just tell them to share, but also tell them why they should share. Explain your reasons and do not be hesitate to tell them God’s expectation for sharing. Use Bible stories to make your point, try the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) or Feeding the Multitude (Matthew 14:13-21). Read to them about sharing. A list of good books follows this blog. We are big on singing in our house and there are great songs about sharing. One of our favorites (for us parents and our kids) is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood You Can Take A Turn and Then I’ll Get It Back. More great teaching songs are also at the end.
Model: Your kids need to see sharing in action. Share with them, with your wife, with friends and with strangers. Point out to your children when they see other people share. Once you make them aware, then remind them why sharing is good.
Play Games: There are many fun games you can play with your kids to teach or reinforce sharing. Games range from learning to share toys, to sharing attention. Playing Peek-A-Boo and taking turns is a simple way to introduce the concept of sharing to a young child. Feel free to role play and practice.
Warn Them: Having dealt with screaming kids recently because they won’t share, I have become better at telling them that they must share before pulling out any new toys or games. It is usually a gentle reminder, “Make sure to share because if you don’t…”
Clear Consequences: Have a logical consequence for when sharing does not occur or if it escalates to yelling, hitting, etc. Let your children know the consequence. My consequence is usually to take the toy away from both of them until they calm down and ask.
In the Throes
This is all good, all steps I have done myself, yet my kids still do not share all the time. Here is what to do when…
They Take: Calmy, speak to the person who took the item. Tell them why taking from someone is not alright and that they need to give it back and ask to borrow it. Sometimes, they won’t give it back. Find out why they won’t give it back, maybe they had it first. If they took it ‘just because’ then I warn them if they do not give it back then I will have to take it. This is not my favorite option, but at that point, I feel all out of options.
They Can’t Have: Make sure they have asked for it. If the owner still won’t share, have the child ask if they can have it when the other person is done playing with it. If that still doesn’t work re-direct onto something else.
Always, always let your child know how proud you are that they shared. Praise both kids if one asked without taking and the other shared without complaining. If a child will not share a favorite toy, don’t force them. In our house, there are some toys we encourage sharing and others it is alright if they do not share. The toy may have sentimental value or may not be appropriate for the other kid; use your parental judgment.
Teaching our kids to share has been a constant challenge. Knowing that it will take years for them to master this concept is reassuring and has helped me be a little more patient. While I do not expect them to share everything, I do want them to realize that sharing not only makes the other person feel good but that God asks us to share.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Luke 6:30