Making sharing a habit can be quite challenging for kids growing up as they are still developing their personality along the way. Their pleasure-seeking ways and penchant for instant gratification does not leave enough room for prosocial habits and behaviour. However, sharing is an essential skill to acquire for children, especially useful in making friends and playing with others.

As a parent, you are in the unique position of nurturing sharing habits of your children early on in their life. Here are some ways you can encourage sharing among your children!

Demonstrate sharing

Demonstrate sharing

Parents are the earliest influencers of children, so they naturally pick up behaviours and habits from you. So if you want to instil the value of sharing, then you must practice what you preach. When interacting with your kids, simple demonstrations of sharing can make a lasting effect on their impressionable minds and would make it more likely for them to act more generously towards others.

Children five years old and below may benefit from descriptive demonstrations of sharing. For example, during mealtimes, you can divide the number of cookies between yourself and your child. You can say, “Let’s share these cookies between the two of us. Half are for you and half are for me.” Toddlers, in particular, are very observant and predisposed to mimicking the actions of elders. In fact, one of the most popular proof of the power of modelling is Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiments. As such, when children observe that sharing makes everyone happy, not just themselves, it reinforces other prosocial behaviours, not just sharing.

Praise your child for sharing

Just as important as modelling is incentivising positive behaviour. Any form of positive affirmation—a nod, a smile, a kiss, applause—will encourage your child to share more to get affection and attention from you. Recognise and praise sharing behaviour whenever you see it. Incentives need not be material things, the power of praise is enough and reduces your child’s sense of entitlement. Gifts might bolster your child’s expectations that he or she deserves a reward with every good turn. Worse, they might start abusing your good will and end up being spoiled. Hence, be circumspect in choosing appropriate reinforcement for good behaviour.

Avoid being too pushy

Avoid being too pushy

Sometimes, you also need to take a step back to allow them to learn and experience things on their own. Children tend to recoil and rebel when parents push too much. Instead, observe your child in group situations to get a sense of how they play with others. This will help you understand your child’s behaviour, whether it’s being a little selfish with his possessions or a tendency to be defensive. This way, you can figure out the kind of guidance your child needs instead of imposing your beliefs with an iron hand.

Put a time limit

Put a time limit

If it is extra challenging to ask your child to share a toy with friends or siblings, you can set a time limit to their play time so they can understand that some things are meant to be shared. This also allows them to wrap their head around following rules. They still get to enjoy their play time, but the timer gives them the opportunity to explore other activities or play with other toys, encouraging other forms of brain stimulation. Perhaps you can play with them or spend time with them once their time is up so that the attention is diverted to some other pursuits.

Respect your child’s prized possessions

While sharing is important, a certain degree of selfishness is healthy, especially on the more personal possessions. Even as adults there are some things that we hesitate to share with others, due to value or sentimental reasons. A child clinging to a teddy bear or a blanket may mean that they find those objects as a source of comfort. In fact, you can learn a lot about your child by pinpointing the stuff that makes them possessive or defensive. Once you respect your child’s prized toys, then it will make them appreciate your understanding and would gradually be more generous in sharing other possessions.