You are here

Teaching Kids to Share

Two years ago, then 3-year-old Matthew Weed, of Tampa, was busy building a tower of blocks when a playmate picked up two of them. "They're mine," Matthew wailed, snatching them back and leaving his friend in tears.

Sound familiar? "Pre-schoolers are naturally self-centered," says Nora Newcombe, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Temple University. And one way they assert their independence is by holding tight to their possessions. Still, there are ways to jump-start generosity:

Kids do what they see their parents do, so point out examples of your own turn-taking: When you and your spouse are looking at different sections of the newspaper, for example, explain, "Mommy and Daddy are sharing the newspaper. I have the news section and Daddy has the business section. When we finish, we'll give them to each other."

"Young children are most likely to share if they understand why they should," says Newcombe. So explain that her generosity makes other people feel good: "Do you remember how happy you were when Jimmy let you play with his new car? That's how happy Andrew is when you share your trains."

Before a playdate, let your youngster put away a few treasured toys. Melissa Nelson, a mother of five in Grapevine, TX, set up a "sharing zone" in her house. All toys kept in the playroom are for everyone to use, and a few special items, like 5-year-old Mitchell's dinosaurs and one of 3-year-old Faith's baby dolls, stay in the children's bedrooms and are individually owned.

It also helps to remind your child how sharing works: "You'll play with a toy first, and then you'll give Jordan a chance to play with that toy."

Let your child know when she's done a good job of sharing. Tell her, "I like the way you let Emily use your markers when she came over this afternoon. You both had fun making pretty pictures with all the colors." Tangible rewards are fine too  -- and not simply expensive toys. Allow her to select the family's dessert for dinner that night, or take her to her favorite park. Always couple the reward with praise about how well she shared so she knows what she's being lauded for.

Kids learn generosity gradually, and at times they may regress. Be patient  -- sooner or later you'll see signs of improvement. Last summer, Matthew Weed, now 5, noticed that a friend who was visiting his swimming pool was afraid of the water. Without any prompting, he offered her his "swimmies" so that she could stay afloat and join the fun.