Care to share?

What should you do to make your child sensitive to the feelings of others?

Do we have to teach children to share or does this come from within?Your three-year-old nephew comes over to play with your daughter, who is a few months younger. He makes his way over to her favourite teddy bear. After looking on for a few minutes, your daughter marches over with a determined expression and yanks the teddy from his hands.In the ensuing uproar of screaming and pulling, you careen between sweet persuasion ("Please share, he's our guest"), attempts at mollifying your nephew ("Here's a bigger teddy bear - a blue one!"), to threats ("Give it back to him or he'll never come to play with you again!") Finally, unwilling to be seen as an ungracious host, you go through the motions of separating your daughter and her prized possession.Child development experts say children need to experience ownership before sharing. And that's natural. The age of sharing comes only after children develop the awareness of the "power to possess'. Growing children develop attachments to objects as well as people ("MY Mummy!"). The period from birth to three years is spent observing and orienting himself to the world around himself and gathering experiences. When a child is about four years and is secure that what is shared or borrowed comes back, and that nothing is taken away forcefully, then she is willing to share. She may now be more amenable to suggestions such as, "If you share your toys with your friend when he comes to your house, then you can play with his toys when you go to his house". Or, "If you do not share toys, your friends will not like to come and play in your house". Even then she wants to have the choice of what to share and what not to. In our workshops, when we ask parents to respect their children's rights over their possessions, they argue that children should be made to share from the time they are small. We then ask them for their reaction if someone borrowed clothes from their cupboard without permission, especially if that person was not careful and spoiled that dress. Or a neighbour wanted to take their new car for a spin. When we as adults do not want to share what is precious to us, is it fair then to expect children to easily give away their things? To us, they may seem like "only toys" but to them they are prized possessions.If we want to teach children values it cannot be done through force. Respect and protect your child's right to her own possessions. She must get the message, "Your feelings are important. I respect you." Only then will the child grow up learning to be sensitive and to respect the feelings of others. So what should parents do to avoid fights over "sharing"?

  • Never force your child to share, however embarrassing it may be to you. Sharing is a value that has to come from within. Children who are forced to share may become more possessive about their things.
  • Respect your child's rights over her things. Tell her friend, "She is not ready to share that right now, shall we play with something else. She will give it when she is ready?"
  • Reassure your child that if she shares, the toys will be played with and returned. Teach her how to take turns without using force. Wait that extra minute till she gives the toy voluntarily.
  • With slightly older children, you can acknowledge their feelings and show confidence in their ability to work it out. "It seems you both want to play with the same toy. I am sure you can find a solution to this problem that will make both of you happ
  • y." You will be amazed at their abilities to solve the problem amicably.
  • Before guests arrive suggest to your child she put away toys she feels are too precious to share.
  • Be a role model by being generous with your things.


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