Why is Sharing so Hard for Children?

Sharing is such a valuable, life-long learning skill but can be very difficult for children as it involves self-regulation, communication, patience and empathy.

Here are some reasons why sharing can often be so hard:

1️⃣ Young children see toys in their possession as an extension of themselves and anyone trying to take a toy off them is trying to take a piece of them too!

2️⃣ They may be too young or not quite developmentally ready to understand that other children have thoughts and emotions different from their own. Children are very ego-centric creatures and don’t start to develop theory of mind until 4-5 years old.

3️⃣ The endowment effect tells us that children (and adults too) find an object more valuable if they own it, so it becomes harder for them to share their own toys. This is why it is more difficult to host a playdate at your own house! Children are better at sharing objects that don’t belong to them.

4️⃣ They may be tired, overstimulated, sick, frustrated, or upset which affects their ability to think about anyone else.

5️⃣ They may have just had their quota for sharing for the day – they are expected to share many things including their Mum, so it’s not surprising that sometimes they have just had enough!

6️⃣ If they have just recently received a toy (eg as a present) it will be more likely that they will not be able to share it until they feel they have spent enough time playing with it on their own.

7️⃣ Older children develop a strong sense of fairness, and can be more reluctant to share when they feel they aren’t getting a fair go.

So how on earth are we supposed to teach children to share?

Sharing is a difficult skill to teach, but here are some tips that I have learnt over the years as both a Mum and a teacher:

✅ Give them a heads up! Before playdates or events involving other children, talk to your child about sharing. Tell them about how many children will be there and how they will likely have to share the toys.

✅ Children don’t have to share all of their toys. Give them a choice over which toys they wish to share with others. I found this one works really well, especially if you anticipate it beforehand. Regardless if other children are coming to your house or if you are taking toys to the park. I would always say beforehand “Which toys are your special toys and which toys are your sharing toys?” If we were at home, we would put the special toys away until the playdate was over. If we were at the park and other children wanted to join in and play with their toys, I would support them to say “these are my special toys and I am playing with them at the moment, but you can play with these other ones instead”. This really saved us a lot of meltdowns!

✅ Play turn-taking and sharing games.

✅ Acknowledge your child and others when they share.

✅ Read books about sharing.

✅ Role model sharing.

✅ A tip I learnt through Montessori for large groups of children playing in one area is for each child to have their own playmat. The children put their playmat down which represents their own sacred play-space. They put the toys they are playing with on their playmat only. Nobody else can enter their play-space unless invited by the child. Children are free to use whatever toys are on the shelves or boxes, but cannot touch the toys on anyone else’s playmat unless invited to do so. This gives children clear boundaries and control over their own play-space but also allows for sharing or playing with other children if they choose to.

✅ No child will ever be good at sharing all of the time, so best roll with it and do what you can to support them.

Leave a Reply