Teaching Children to Share

Teaching Children to Share

          In my college class this week, one of my students was doing a presentation and she asked the other students what “sharing” meant. I smiled and thought, “This is going to be interesting!” Well, after a few struggles trying to get a reasonable answer, she gave up and moved on. So why was this so hard? We all know what sharing is – don’t we??
          Well it turns out that it’s more complicated than you’d think. First of all, sharing is an abstract term. When we’re working with young children, we need to make such abstract ideas concrete. That means showing children what sharing is, not just using the word. So when you want to teach children how to share, you’ll need to model, have them practice, and repeat (many times because this is difficult for them!)
          The second problem is that children often have a different concept of “sharing” than we do, because the term was not modeled well enough for them when they first learned it. Imagine this scenario: Rebecca has a toy that Justin wants, and she is happily playing with it. Justin tells Rebecca he wants the toy and she refuses. So Justin runs to the teacher screaming, “Rebecca’s not sharing!!” Now what does he mean when he says “sharing”? Clearly he means, “She won’t give me what I want.” What’s often missing from a young child’s understanding of sharing is the idea of reciprocity – that we both (or all) get some of whatever it is that we want. This lack of understanding comes from a child’s egocentrism, but it also comes for the circumstances in which they learned the word “sharing”. If they were told they had to share, it was likely to be an instance in which they had to surrender what they had possession of. So that’s how the child comes to see “sharing” as meaning “giving up what you have to someone else.”
     So if you want your children to learn how to share, think of all the circumstances in which sharing would be appropriate and model what this should look like. These could be:

  • Sharing cups at snack time so everyone gets one. 
  • Sharing unifix cubes in a math lesson so everyone gets 10. 
  • Sharing time on the computer so that everyone gets a turn each week. 
  • Sharing space on the carpet so everyone can see the book. 
  • Sharing an extra pencil so you both have one to use.

With enough examples like these, children will start to understand that sharing means distributing portions rather than giving up what you have to someone else. It will also be helpful to combine the idea of sharing with taking turns – which is another way of saying, sharing equal time with somebody.
          What problems have you seen with children sharing? And what have you done that helps children learn to share? Please let us know in the comments!